USA: TECH-KNOW - The people and products shaping your future - Lessons from Silicon Valley.

USA: TECH-KNOW - The people and products shaping your future - Lessons from Silicon Valley. - With two million users and 70% of its market, few new inventions have been as successful as PalmPilot, the hand-held computer. So why has it taken the company s

by ROGER TAYLOR, who writes for the Financial Times.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With two million users and 70% of its market, few new inventions have been as successful as PalmPilot, the hand-held computer. So why has it taken the company six months to find a new CEO?

The job has been vacant since July when the founders of the business left to form a new company, Handspring, where they are said to be dreaming up new and probably cheaper hand-helds.

A chief executive has now been found - Robin Abrams, who previously ran a division of Hewlett-Packard. She seems pleased about the new job but some are wondering whether she has landed on a snake rather than a ladder.

Leading a company into competition with the people who made it successful is bound to be a little disconcerting. But the more immediate threat comes from an imminent flood of new hand-helds from competitors which run on the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, giving them the advantage of familiarity.

It is generally agreed that the hand-held has a bright future. The question is whether PalmPilot has blazed the trail only to allow an army of followers to run it over as they rush to exploit this new market. Abrams is going to have a fight on her hands.

And the next market opportunity after hand-held computers? With businessmen today carrying a phone, a palmtop and, often, a bleeper, the time of the executive utility belt has surely come. Modelled on the belts used by American police to carry their weapons, it would allow the full complement of technological essentials to be carried without causing an unsightly bulge in a suit. A can of Mace could be added to help keep order during raucous sales meetings.

Pity the poor executives in the US for whom corporate jet travel is becoming increasingly troublesome. Along with shareholders questioning their extravagance, they now face prying eyes of internet snoops.With the help of enterprising web companies such as Trip.com, it is now possible to track any flight in the US.

If you know the identification number of a plane, the system can tell you when it takes off, where it goes and when it lands. Another internet site, Landings.com, can tell you who owns which planes.

This information is proving to be of strange fascination to some Wall Street analysts. The idea is that by scrutinising corporate travel arrangements they might uncover clues about a company's plans.

Some people worry that terrorists might use the information to target heads of industry. But the worst that has happened so far is embarrassment - a report that Time Warner's corporate jet had been tracked flying off to Long Island at the weekend.

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