A chat with iambic CEO Vidal Graupera

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Listen in on a group of Palm enthusiasts discussing their favorite applications and Action Names is sure to come up. The PIM replacement software from iambic, Inc. extends Palm’s calendar and address book applications and has provided iambic with a legion of loyal followers over the years. But a recent incident threatened to overshadow all that.

Iambic registered domain names that eerily matched the names its main competitor’s products, and it routed people visiting those sites back to its own website. When word got out about this dubious marketing tactic consumers became incensed, making their displeasure known through emails to iambic and angry postings on popular discussion boards. Eventually iambic apologized and agreed to turn the domains over to its competitor, but not before many handheld enthusiasts had swore to boycott iambic products.

While Brighthand does not condone the registering of competitors’ domains, we were surprised by the extent of the backlash. It made us question whether it is fair to throw the baby, in this case iambic, out with the bathwater. After all, if Microsoft were taken to task for every one of its ethical stumbles it might not exist today.

Recently Brighthand editor Steve Bush had the opportunity to discuss PDAs, and "the incident," with iambic’s CEO Vidal Graupera. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview.

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Brighthand: Iambic’s been around since 1994, which is a long time in the handheld industry. What are the most interesting changes you’ve witnessed since you began?

Vidal Graupera: Actually, iambic started in late 1993 and was one of the first companies to develop software for handheld computers. We’ve been through many phases, and we see that the Handheld Industry is still in the transition and evolution phase. Since we started back with the Newton MessagePad the devices also have a much nicer design and have become smaller in size. For me, the most interesting change is that now ads for handheld devices can be seen on TV and the sides of buses. Handhelds are status items for some people. In the beginning, they were just geek toys that weren’t cool. People laughed at you for using them. The word "toy" was often used to describe PDAs. Now, at least most people know about PDAs. The challenge that still remains is that most people don’t buy them.

Brighthand: What is the genesis of the name iambic?

Mr. Graupera: Good trademarks are hard to find. After giving up on many other names, I found this word when searching through the glossary in the Norton Anthology of Poetry — iambic pentameter. The iambic part was short and unique and memorable. Best thing was it wasn’t already taken by someone else.

Brighthand: Iambic has focused on developing software for the Palm Platform. Have you considered developing for Pocket PC or Symbian?

Mr. Graupera: Sure, why not? Some people might not realize that in the past, we released products for Windows CE 1.0, 2.0, and eBookman. We are always looking at new hardware and operating systems that come out. Iambic is about creating software applications for handheld computers. Where the bulk of the users of these applications go, we’ll be there, too. So I don’t know who will be the market leader in the year 2020, but whoever it is, expect to find some iambic applications running on that platform.

Brighthand: Are iambic’s products ready for Palm OS 5?

Mr. Graupera: Yes, some of them are about to be ready, like iambic’s most popular software, Action Names Datebook, and our advanced e-mail client, iambic Mail, so we are working on it. Other iambic products are still in process of being adapted for OS 5, but we are moving in this direction rather quickly. Iambic has already developed its most popular products for the high-resolution-plus series of Palm OS devices, including the newly released Sony CLIÉ PEG-NR70 and NR70V series.

Brighthand: What role, if any, will wireless and the future high-speed 3G networks play in iambic’s future product development?

Mr. Graupera: After so many years, and so many promises, wireless PDA devices are finally beginning to show up that are useful and affordable. We are actively working on ways to extend our existing applications and write new applications that take advantage of these wireless capabilities. I feel however that it’s still going to take a while for these devices to become really widely adopted.

Brighthand: What’s iambic’s process for fixing product bugs and communicating those fixes back to the user community? Also, what’s its process for introducing enhancements?

Mr. Graupera: Our technical support team collects information on bug problems directly from our customers, and enters them into a centralized database. This info is then analyzed and worked on by iambic’s engineering team. When we introduce a new version of a product, we make an announcement to all of our customers, and they can go to our website to see a detailed report of all bugs fixed. When we introduce new features, we prepare a product-news announcement that we try to place on all major Palm sites. All of our product announcements can be found on our website under the "press room" section. This way, we’re able to inform all of our customers and interested users about our newly released and updated products. Our R&D group always looks at potential requirements and angles our programs can take, and, in the next few months, our customers will see new and innovative features included in iambic’s software. We not only want to meet, but exceed our customers’ expectations.

In addition, we host iambic forums on our website, which are open to all of our customers. They can openly suggest their ideas on current and new developments, and exchange their experiences in working with our software. This is a great way for us to better understand our customers’ needs and expectations. Also, we have a strategic and long-term vision for each product, so we enhance the product along those lines, too.

Brighthand: The recent turmoil in the newsgroups surrounding iambic’s registering of domains bearing a resemblance to the name of a competitor’s products highlighted how quickly information can be passed through the Palm community via the Internet. It is a double-edged sword. It’s a blessing when it’s favorable news about your product but painful when it’s bad news, or misinformation. Do you agree?

Mr. Graupera: Yes, one advantage of the Internet is that we stay informed about everything going on in the industry first-hand and instantly as the news, whether positive or negative, becomes available to the public. The disadvantage is that the Internet is a tool in the hands of many people with many differing points of view. The recent domain-name issue brought both of these factors to light for iambic.

Brighthand: Most Palm enthusiasts are familiar with your Action Names product, which by the way has an incredible weekly block mode, but what other iambic products are you most proud of?

Mr. Graupera: We’ve had a number of successful programs, and the popularity of a program sometimes varies from market to market. The most successful and best-known program is definitely Action Names Datebook. At CeBIT 2002, we announced a new edition of Action Names Datebook called Action Names School, created specifically for students on the go. We always wanted to create a program that would help scholars better manage their activities and time. We offered the program to the Sorbonne University students, and they found it tremendously helpful. We plan on making the program available to a number of other international markets in the near future.

We are also very proud of TinySheet, an Excel-compatible program that allows users to synchronize spreadsheets directly to the handheld device. The program supports 113 mathematical, statistical, financial, text and logic functions, as well as 29 different chart styles. The program’s capabilities are unlimited and it is the fastest spreadsheet for the Palm platform.

A new application we are very proud of is our 21st century game, BumpAttack Pinball. It comes with two unique tables – DeepSea and Mars, each with its own themes, layout and challenges. The Internet scoreboard gives players the chance to show off their pinball prowess and compete against other players all over the world.

Finally, we also have iambic Mail, which is a powerful tool that helps users send, receive and view attached files. With a wireless connection, all of these advanced features are available when traveling or on the go.

Every product has its own value to each specific customer strata, and we are always proud to offer a product that helps advance our customers’ handheld experience. Action Names is probably our best program, and I’m very proud of it. iambic takes great pride in its diverse line of software titles and the functionality of our offerings – iambic’s goal has always been, and will continue to be, to provide as many complete solutions as necessary to fulfill the needs of our customers.

Brighthand: Do you have any recent customer success stories to share with us?

Mr. Graupera: Yes, always. People around the world contact and send us emails thanking iambic for its excellent software. Most recently, a highly talented Austrian film director, David Ruhm, was honored with the American film award, and he commented that Action Names Datebook is his favorite contact and schedule management assistant. He stated that he relies heavily on our software to organize his schedule, contacts and communications, and has been using the program to plan his films, coordinate castings worldwide, schedule meetings with studios and investors, keep his contacts up-to-date, and much more. We are always glad to hear from our customers since their success is also ours.

Brighthand: Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Vidal.

Mr. Graupera: Thank you.

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