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Forum Member Writes Open Letter to Palm Asking for Clearer Communication

Thu Nov 30, 2006 - 1:14 PM EST - By Dieter Bohn


In this TreoCentral Forum thread, member Bob-C has posted an open letter (pdf download) to Palm CEO Ed Colligan. The letter discusses what users feel to be pervasive bugs on the 700p, including concerns about Bluetooth reliability and lag in the OS. At issue, besides the obvious frustration of owning a top-of-the-line smartphone which may have serious bugs, is a desire to get clearer communication from Palm. Ideally, they'd like more information about these bugs (i.e. admission that they exist or at least clearer troubleshooting). Bob-C sums up his letter nicely:

Implementing a policy of communication, trust and partnership with your customers would be beneficial for everyone. All it would take is a communication of a fix availability timetable on your part.

As of this writing, the above thread contains nearly 350 user-signatures from TreoCentral board members who agree with the sentiments expressed in the letter. Other members are invited to visit the thread and sign it if they agree. An earlier thread, titled 700P ROM Update Rally contains an extensive discussion which led up to the letter.

Dieter's Thoughts

Here's what I think:

My own posts in the "rally thread" (here and here) reveal that I'm just a touch hesitant about this issue; I need to explain why. Let's start with Bob-C's letter. He points out Microsoft's Windows Mobile Knowledge Base, writing:

They provide advanced communication of Service Pack release dates and accommodate time-critical needs by releasing beforehand beta versions. Feedback from beta users is also part of Microsoft�s testing plan. It is a very well conceived strategy in all regards and accomplishes three goals: 1) Improves quality of final release product, 2) Reduces internal testing time and overhead, and most importantly 3) Makes their customers feel respected and valued.

Indeed, for all the flak Microsoft receives for their often-buggy products, they do appear to be striving to communicate more clearly and openly with their customers recently. For example, many 700w|wx users have been experiencing Bluetooth issues - an issue which Microsoft has recognized and fixed. Although the fix may not ever become available to current owners (as it's an OS update), it is at least reassuring to know that the issue is not user-error and something is being done about it.

On the other hand, Palm is definitely not Microsoft - Palm has neither Microsoft's gigantic stockpile of cash or their resources. So a full-fledged and public knowledge base detailing every possible bug may be more difficult for them. However, as long as we're using Microsoft as an example, I'd like to point out the Windows Mobile Team Blog, an incredibly great blog that comes straight from the developers of Windows Mobile. In it, they write candidly about annoying issues about WM5, including the inability to use ActiveSync over WiFi. Again, this sort of communication doesn't actually fix issues, but it does open a window into them and provides valuable context. (Let's not also forget the great Mobius Conference Microsoft hosts, discussed in TreoCast 4.)

But it needs repeating: Palm is not Microsoft. One example of this is carrier relationships - Palm has to work much more closely and directly with wireless carriers than do the folks who create Windows Mobile. They need to have every little change tested, retested, and approved - a process Microsoft is mostly able to just hand off to their manufacturers. Additionally, I have to assume that the carriers probably demand a heavy level of secrecy regarding future updates and devices. Palm may want to be more open with users about bugs, but they have to make sure they don't make promises that they can't keep -- especially if the carriers' testing and approval process might hold those updates back. This is the source of my hesitancy, I suppose.

So I'm dancing here, aren't I? The question is: am I going to sign the letter? I'm not sure - there are two parts to this:

First: I am not an engineer, software or otherwise, and I have experienced many-a-bug that turned out to be some sort of 3rd-party conflict. That said, it definitely seems like there is a large contingent of power users on our boards who are finding verifiable and repeatable problems. Still, I just can't speak with authority on the issue of whether or not there are actually critical bugs on the 700p. I believe there are, but there's no way to know for sure unless the folks who make the OS quantify them. Which leads me to the second point - better communication.

Second: Yes, I would be ecstatic if Palm were to open up and talk more about their current (and future!) operating system. But just as I'm not an engineer, neither am I an executive who has to negotiate with 800lb-gorilla carriers. My hope is that Palm can find a way to navigate through the various issues of bully carriers, increasing competition, and vocal power-users who rightfully demand the best out of their smartphones to come to a clearer and more open corporate voice.

"A clearer and more open corporate voice" sounds a lot like the heady days of the late 1990s, when The Cluetrain Manifesto was published. Much of that book seems over-the-top these days, but the overall theme is that customers are talking to each other in open and human voices; they'd like to hear that same sort of voice from the companies who make the products they love.

So yes, I'll sign. By doing so I'm not claiming I know that there are bugs or saying I'd be outraged if Palm isn't able to communicate more about future updates. Instead, I'm expressing a hope that Palm can have a more human voice.

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