Two years ago I journeyed up to a small town in suburban New Jersey to interview the founders of an equally small company called LandWare. They’d been around for five years and had enjoyed reasonable success with the release of the GoType keyboard and Pocket Quicken. But it wasn’t until I met founders Ken Landau and Clinton Logan that I realized what I had stumbled upon.
Landau and Logan and their unlikely union as LandWare were a story for the 21st century — a nouveau tale of gadgets, software and the Internet. Not your typical dot-com success story, it was more about adventuresome capitalists than venture capital, taking stock than stock options and hard work than hardware.
Since then I’ve bumped into Landau on several occasions, mainly at events such as Comdex and PC Expo. I always make sure I search him out, even just to say a quick hello and see what’s new. It’s reassuring to watch a small company — the germinated idea of two men from opposite sides of the globe — grow and blossom.
Last week I flew back up to New Jersey and despite a sudden snowstorm managed to find my way back out to the same office in the same small town. It felt good to see the place one last time before they moved to much bigger offices across the hall. It was filled with boxes containing the packaging and product for their newest product, the floating point stylus, which began shipping that day. We spoke for more than two hours but I’ve tried to select some of the highlights of our conversation.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Brighthand: It’s been two years since we last visited. What’s changed within the handheld industry? And what’s changed at LandWare? Are you still enjoying it as much?
Ken Landau: I’ve definitely noticed a change in the business, a maturing of the marketplace. Two years ago we weren’t seeing announcements like the recent one from Sega about its plans to develop games for Palm OS, and we certainly didn’t have an installed base of 8 million devices, both of which bode well for the future. But I’m still enjoying it. I couldn’t see myself in any other business venture.
Clinton Logan: It depends a lot on what day you ask me and today is a good day to answer that question. The floating point stylus has finally come back from manufacturing and we’re about to ship today, so it’s at this point I’m really, really loving what we’re doing. Now if you had asked me two weeks ago, after our third subcontractor had let us down, my answer would have been a little bit different. However I do find it very rewarding to be able to create things that didn’t exist before and to finally see the physical packages shipping out makes it all worthwhile. I love the handheld industry and consider myself really privileged to be able to work on products that I genuinely like and use. To be able to create a business around that is wonderful. I think that some people look upon LandWare as some cold corporation but that’s just not the case at all. We’re just enthusiasts. We’re a small group of people that love handheld devices and love producing products for others like us.
Brighthand: What’s been the biggest hurdle or bump in the road that you’ve faced in the past two years?
Clinton: Well, it might be a bit longer than two years but the cancellation of the Newton was certainly a wake up call for us. It made us realize how critical it was not to bank your entire business on one product. That was definitely the catalyst for us to develop software and accessories for Palm and Windows CE devices.
Brighthand: Speaking of accessories, you recently released the GoType keyboard for the Cassiopeia E-100 series and you’ve got a new GoType keyboard for the Palm m100 coming out soon. Have you ever considered developing a single universal GoType keyboard and adapters for each type of device?
Clinton: Yes. We originally released the Palm III version of the GoType and when the Palm V was announced we investigated that possibility. However, once you add an adapter you can no longer close the keyboard. Each GoType is designed to mold to a specific unit which has the advantage of providing a very secure dock with the handheld. The downside for us is that we have to develop a model for each handheld and as they proliferate that becomes more of a challenge.
Brighthand: What effect has competition from manufacturers like Think Outside with its Stowaway keyboard had on the GoType?
Ken: For one thing, perhaps it validates the need for a keyboard to those handheld users wondering why they would need one. There is certainly a market and now they have choices. There are those who value the collapsible style of the Stowaway and there are others who value a stable, one-piece design like the GoType that’s both lower cost and has the ability to recharge your device in the keyboard cradle.
Brighthand: Speaking of the Palm m100, what’s your take on what’s made it so successful?
Clinton: I have a lot of Palms and the m100, oddly enough, is probably my current favorite. The combination of its organic shape – it’s slightly thicker and more comfortable to hold in your palm – and the fact that it represents a $149 investment as opposed to a $400 investment are the main reasons. I’m pretty hard on devices. I throw these things around, break screens and tend to lose them, so I actually like that aspect of the m100. I guess the last thing, which is really an emotional one, is that the industrial design is reminiscent of what the palm-sized Newton would have been like if Apple had shipped it.
Ken: Yes, I think price point is a big factor. Getting back to keyboard differences, people that buy a $149 device like the m100 are likely more price-sensitive. So, buying a $69 solution that is also a cradle as opposed to a $99 solution that is not might be a factor.
Brighthand: What’s next in the area of accessories?
Clinton: Well, the floating point was quite an "education" to make and a long time coming. The barrel differs slightly from my original vision which turned out to be very, very difficult to produce. We had several successive contractors attempt it, including one that creates parts for the McLaren racing team, only to fail. So I’m extremely relieved to finally get it out the door. We’re just beginning to come up for air and say, "What’s next?
Brighthand: Wireless is the big buzzword for 2001. How is LandWare positioning itself in the wireless space?
Ken: If wireless becomes more mainstream then we’ll engage that market. But for now we’re still watching.
Clinton: We implement the products and features that are going to be of use or desirable to the majority of consumers. That’s not to say that you won’t see wireless in our products. In fact, we’re looking at it very, very closely. Certainly the increased adoption of the Kyocera and other Palm OS based phones is going to change the focus of what we start putting into our products. You’ll see an incremental approach from us.
Ken: For example, with the Zagat’s Restaurant Guide and a Kyocera phone, we could implement an API call so that if you have a restaurant listing pulled up you could tap and it would dial it and you’re talking to the restaurant. That’s something that’s not overly complicated, and if you don’t have the phone then the product still works and if you do have the phone it takes advantage of that API.
Clinton: Yes, in reality it’s only about five lines of source code to make that work.
Brighthand: Do you see software remaining on the device or do you envision remote applications with wireless devices acting as clients?
Clinton: Possibly some sort of hybrid approach. The majority of content will remain on the device – static reference content that you access a lot. More frequently updated dynamic content you grab wirelessly. Like a stock quote, for example.
Brighthand: Tell us about the new release of Pocket Quicken you’ve got in the works.
Clinton: Pocket Quicken 2.0 is now in beta. There are over 110 new features. We have made some significant enhancements to the product and included almost everything that people have been asking for. We have also maintained backward compatibility with Quicken 99 and 2000.
Ken: We really tried to listen to feedback from our customers. We kept diligent lists of what people were asking for and really tried to hit it with a total rewrite from the ground floor up. It’s really more than an upgrade, it’s like a new product – Pocket Quicken 2.0.
Clinton: One of primary new features is the ability to download historical transactions from the desktop. People have been asking for that for ages. The reason you didn’t see it until now was the inherent architectural limitations of the desktop product didn’t allow us to provide it seamlessly. A lot of users will be pleased to hear that we now have Pocket Quicken 2.0 beta running here with over 6,000 transactions downloaded from the desktop. It features a whole lot of new stuff including: support for unlimited accounts, hidden accounts, current balances, improved UI, full use of colour, integrated calculator, foreign currencies, better split support, budgeting. It’s a much richer product and If I do say so myself, Quicken users will be blown away by the new version.
Brighthand: You’ve got a new version of Zagat Restaurant Guide out too. How does Zagat differ from other similar products?
Clinton: We designed Zagat to be a pure restaurant guide rather than an abridged travel guide with some restaurant data tossed in. The goal was to provide a better resource than the physical book itself and judging by the feedback from users I think we succeeded. For the Zagat purest we are the only product to provide 100% of their content on the handheld including their really helpful precompiled TopLists. The 2001 release now provides over 15,000 restaurants in 23 individually installable locals.
Brighthand: Do you find yourself working all of the time, developing new products and supporting existing ones?
Ken: It’s inevitable because you can be reached by email at home. I also can get my email with my Palm V and my cell phone. We have suppliers in Singapore on a much different time zone and they contact you at all hours. So, it’s long hours but hopefully you temper that with the fact that it’s something you truly enjoy doing. And you can put barriers around it if you really wanted to.
Clinton: I’m convinced, and I’m sure other people are, that there’s something wrong with me. I don’t know what day it is, I have to think twice about what my Zip Code is, but I know every line of Pocket Quicken 2.0 in exquisite detail. I think that’s an indication that you really enjoy what you’re doing, however I do try and remind myself occasionally that it’s time to turn the computer off and go outside and play for a bit.
Brighthand: One final question before I let you get back to shipping out those floating point styli. Name someone you admire or respect in the handheld industry.
Ken: You can’t help but think of Jeff Hawkins, the founder and father of all this. Tremendous asset to the community as a whole. Great spokesman. I always enjoy listening to him speak. And Donna Dubinsky’s done a great job at HandSpring as well. I’m very impressed by their growth. It’s amazing to think they’re only one year old.
Clinton: Yes, definitely Jeff and Donna. That’s a given. We wouldn’t be getting to play around with this stuff if it weren’t for them. However I will always have tremendous respect for the original Newton team at Apple, they are the guys that truly ignited my passion for this industry.