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Interview with Joe Sipher of Handspring

 

Handspring logo

This week we talk with Mr. Joe Sipher, Vice President of Product Marketing at Handspring. The Visor line of Palm OS PDAs has been a sucess since the day the company opened its doors for business. Founded by the folks who brought you the original Palm Pilot, Handspring is known for its innovation, which is evidenced by the ingenious line of Treo and Treo Communicator devices released this year. We asked Mr. Sipher about the development of the Treo line, its future and about the competition.

Interview:

MobileTechReview.com: The Treo Communicator is a bold departure from previous Handspring and Palm PDAs. How did you come up with the idea? Was it inspired by SmartPhones like the Qualcomm pdQ and Kyocera 6065?

Joe Sipher: The mission at Handspring has always been to build communication products. The Visor product line and Springboard were ways to get the company up and running and help us learn about building wireless products like VisorPhone. So in some ways moving to Treo was a bold departure, but in fact building communicators was always the plan.

People juggling two and three handheld devices were the true inspiration for Treo. I can't count the number of organizer customers who, once they learned I worked in the handheld industry, pleaded with me to come up with a solution to combine their cell phone, organizer, and messaging device. It just makes too much sense--no one wants to manage three sets of batteries and chargers or moving data between all these devices. I can't fathom going back to the days when I looked up a number in my organizer and then had to key it into my phone. That feels so cumbersome now that I use a Treo.

 

Joe Sipher

MobileTechReview.com: How long did it take to develop each of the Treo models?

Joe Sipher: The first Treo model (180) took about 16 months to develop. That was a very fast track project given all the new ground we had to cover including keyboard enabling the Palm OS. To give you a comparison the Palm VII took 2 1/2 years to develop. Treo 270 and 300 had slightly shorter development times.

MobileTechReview.com: Are sales of the Treo line meeting your expectations? How do they compare to Visor model sales?

Joe Sipher: We sold 90,000 Treo communicators in the first two quarters of 2002. We're satisfied with these sales figures, but see room for growth. Note, most of those where the black and white Treo 180s and we see much more opportunity with the color Treo 270 and Treo 300 products. We're still selling an amazing number of Visors, but the ratio of Visors to Treos sold is changing pretty quickly. We expect over time that communicators will be the majority of our business.

MobileTechReview.com: Kyocera will be rolling out their color 7135 Palm OS SmartPhone and Samsung their I600 SmartPhone. Will these devices pose a competitive threat to the Treo Communicator line? Is Handspring planning a counter-attack with a new Communicator for the upcoming holiday shopping season?

Joe Sipher: All along we expected the communicator market to be highly competitive. Interestingly enough neither of the products you mention have a keyboard which we think is critical not only to having a great messaging/data experience but to having a great voice experience. The keyboard was the simple "aha" that allows you to dial by name versus by number. People don't want to memorize a random 10 digit number for everyone they know. They want to dial by name and a physical QWERTY keyboard you can use with one hand or two is the absolute best way to support that feature. Of course, we are working on some exciting future products, but I can't comment on the feature set or timing.

MobileTechReview.com: Will we ever see graffiti on a Handspring product again?

Joe Sipher: Again, I really can't comment on unnannounced products.

MobileTechReview.com: Can you share with us any information about upcoming Palm OS 5 devices?

Joe Sipher: You guessed it. Can't comment.

 

 

 

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