Palm Pre, FastFigures and powerOne

I have had a steady drip of requests since the Palm Pre launched for a webOS version of our software. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the platform, what I think Palm is doing right and wrong, and relate that to our own software products FastFigures and powerOne.

First, let me say that I like what Palm is doing with the Pre from a developer perspective except one major flaw. A year ago I wrote a post on the recipe for beating Apple and highlighted three things that the company needed to do. Palm has nailed two of the three:

  1. Build a beautiful, touchscreen device.
  2. Make it synchronize with web-based applications.
  3. Focus on offline use of web-based applications.

Palm is flubbing #3.

Palm has built their platform so that all applications are written in CSS (the page style), HTML (the content) and Javascript (the interactivity), the core languages of the web. But these three languages are intended to handle the user interface, or client, side of the equation.

What’s missing — and what Palm insists it doesn’t need — is the underlying technology that handles the business-side of web applications. Developers use a multitude of server-side technologies to do this, including Ruby on Rails, PHP, .net, and Python. Most mobile platforms use either C or Java to handle the business logic.

Palm insists it doesn’t need anything. And this is a major mistake.

Our software requires the business language to run the engine that performs all the calculations. Javascript won’t do primarily because of security and speed issues. In addition, insisting on using Javascript for business logic flies in the face of everything I learned about how to do web development.

Palm’s perspective is that applications that need business logic should interface with the web, such as Google’s search engine. Except an application like ours works best when the calculation is resident on the device, not because the calculations are better but because our customers don’t trust the Internet connection with their devices. There are just too many holes.

So what do our customers do when it comes to the Pre? They can either use the Classic emulator, which we don’t officially support but seems to run our software without a problem according to customers who have tried it, or use the web-based version of FastFigures at Either way, if you want our products on Pre, please drop us an email so we know.

And hopefully in the future, Palm will realize their mistake and give us a business logic language to work with. For now, though, I won’t hold my breath.

Does Anti-Trust Pressure Force Apple, Palm To Play Nice?

It’s going to be a very busy couple of weeks in mobile land. This week, Palm finally ships the Pre. We’ll finally see if it lives up to the hype. And then next week, Apple will have their World Wide Developer Conference, with many and varied rumors of new devices.

The most interesting news, though, going into this Mobile June Extravaganza is the announcement that the Palm Pre syncs with iTunes (it excludes DRM protected media and applications). The big question and speculation of course is: 1) Is Apple giving Palm permission? and 2) If  not, when will Apple shut down Palm’s media sync?

This “relationship” is only heightened by the two companies. Palm’s been poaching Apple developers, precipitated by former Apple and now Palm executive Jonathan Rubenstein, the brains behind the iPod and revitalized Mac. Apple’s Tim Cook, current COO, has publicly said, “We’re going to go after anybody” who rips off Apple’s technology. “We’ll use whatever weapons we have at our disposal.” (quote from Fortune Magazine, June 8, 2009, p88)

To say the least, the relationship is full of animosity.

Sure sounds like Palm is “hacking” Apple’s iTunes. After all, why would Apple help the company they are trying to simultaneously ignore/kill? If so, I would expect a “kill switch” built into an update of iTunes in the near future.

Given all this, though, I’d be surprised if Palm is doing this without permission. Palm’s making a big deal out of the iTunes media sync, as they should. And would you make a big deal out of a major feature that could be ended at any time? No way.

My guess is there’s a ghost in the room. With the Democrats in power, don’t be surprised if there’s more discussion of anti-trust issues. Apple, with close to 90% market share with iTunes and the iPod, has got to be thinking about protecting its back side. No better way to do that than let a competitor or two sync with your system.

And with Apple’s public comments about Palm, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is Apple’s hubris allowing this relationship to happen. After all, why should Apple worry about Palm syncing if, according to Apple, Palm will not be around to take advantage?

Introducing FastFigures Mobile for iPhone and iPod Touch

I’m very proud to announce the release of FastFigures Mobile, our first iPhone/iPod Touch application and the first release of our companion to FastFigures Online. FastFigures Mobile runs on iPhone and iPod Touch devices without requiring an Internet connection. FastFigures modernizes the calculator.

In my time running Infinity Softworks, there have been three defining products. The first was FCPlus Professional version 2, which came out in 1999. This product really introduced the template format to mainstream financial calculator users, making it possible for them to drop their HP-12c and HP-17b and carry a Palm handheld instead. This product was also a great marketing success for us as its younger sibling, FCPlus, was the first of our products bundled with Palm handhelds. We had product bundled on pretty much every Palm OS handheld from that point on, including Sony and other Palm OS manufacturers. During this time, bundling became our main marketing strategy.

The next defining product was powerOne Graph version 4, a full-fledged software graphing calculator for Palm OS devices. This was our key product to go after the education market. Educators loved it because their students weren’t spending their entire class time trying to remember which buttons to press and students loved it because they got to carry around a computer. Our education efforts, unfortunately, didn’t work out so well for us. Our three years of effort were killed off when Palm decided to exit handheld computers.

FastFigures is our third defining product. It revives the vision I had for the company’s products in 1999. Calculation is an integral part of many of our lives. We use it to calculate mortgages and investments and concrete slab materials and IV drips and pressure conversions and … well, you get the idea. And we all have our own specialities and needs, independent from everyone around us. But we don’t just run calculations. We need to retain results and share them with co-workers and clients. And we need to be able to run these numbers everywhere and recall these results everywhere, whether in the field or at our desk.

The Online version of FastFigures is already in beta and works with an Internet connection on Windows, Macintosh, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Palm computers. And now, with the release of FastFigures Mobile, we release our first version of FastFigures that runs without an Internet connection on iPhone and iPod Touch devices.

I hope you will give it a try (you can buy it here) and tell me what you think.

To Flash or Not To Flash? That’s The Question

I’ve been following the news out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC). There are probably two items that struck my fancy: the first is the debate raging in the mobile world regarding Adobe Flash on smartphones and the second is the lack of Android/plethora of Windows Mobile announcements. I’ll address the first this week and talk about the second later on.

Ah… Flash. To some it is the holy grail. To others it’s bloated c***-ware that’s run its course. Flash, if you are unaware, is a programming language that runs in the browser. It was invented by Adobe to provide browser functionality that wasn’t native to the web languages of CSS and HTML. Probably its most popular use in the early 2000s was as a way to deliver interactive advertising on sites like Yahoo!, but over the years it has been used to develop web-based applications as well, such as Quicken Online.

Here’s the problem: Flash is an intensive memory hog designed for desktop use and that makes it difficult to use on mobile devices. After all, who wants half the battery time.

The news: at MWC Adobe announced a consortium of mobile platforms — including Nokia and Palm — who will support the development of a full version of Flash that runs on their devices. Why is this creating a stir in the mobile world? Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, announced vehemently that Flash would never run on an iPhone. Now the world is a-twitter with “has Apple missed the boat” conversation.

The reality, however, is that Flash on a mobile device doesn’t really matter. It’s a dying platform on the web anyway, being replaced by a JavaScript protocol called AJAX that’s far less memory intensive, supported by all the browsers, and not controlled by any single entity, a holy grail for the open-standards web.

Who does Flash on mobile help? The market followers. Those crying for Flash on mobile point to Twitter clients and Facebook clients and the like. But those applications are already available at Apple’s AppStore, the market leader for third-party software. It’s everyone else that benefits from it as they get Twitter clients and Facebook clients without having to worry about significant additional development, hypothetically. Significant is the key word, of course, because some changes have to take place to work on the small, smartphone screen.

So what do I think? I think the entire conversation is a distraction. The reality is this: if Palm sells 25 million units in its first two years and sets up an effective software sales and distribution model then developers will flock to the platform, writing applications using its native development tools. And if Palm doesn’t sell millions then it doesn’t matter if Flash runs on the Pre or not as no developer will spend time optimizing their code for a couple thousand users.

Loyalty Part 2

Last time I wrote about my customers, employees and investors who have stayed loyal, have stuck it out with me, and how much I appreciate that. (If you missed it and you are one of the unnamed many, thanks!)

As I have watched these names move from device to device, it makes me wonder which device makers are really creating brand loyalty. Clearly Apple is the king, as the tongue-wagging fanboys get overly excited about every device they bring out. (Frankly, usually for very good reason as they make some amazing devices.) RIM is another one, although their loyalty is more of the cool, upper management variety than the technology geeks of the world. It’s the “look, I can send emails rapid fire while the rest of you slobs are wasting time waiting for the train” variety.

This is where Palm and Microsoft are struggling. It seems that people can’t wait to get away from Windows Mobile, that it’s a compromise when they can’t get something else. The loyalty doesn’t seem to be there.

Palm is a different case. They once had it. The loyalty of their customers was of the Franklin-Covey, life organizer variety. The “you can pry this device from my cold, dead hands” variety. Somewhere along the line that disappeared. Now all those customer names are appearing on lists waiting for iPhone or BlackBerry Storm versions of our software. Maybe they got tired of waiting; maybe they got tired of the horrible support and square pegs in round hole products.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these folks have been waiting for a new Palm — that promised device from those vaunted luminaries of mobile tech. And maybe they will be rewarded. When Apple almost died, they had also almost lost their loyalty base. That group has come back en masse over the past decade and, at the same time, Apple has added a whole new generation.

Can Palm pull it off, too? We’ll see.