Marketing Mistakes

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The analysis of the marketing of OpenMoko Freerunner reveals the following problems:

From the view point of the inexperienced customer

  • Freerunner was shipped to the user as an experimental device and not as working device for everyday use for novice users.
  • the only widely accepted distribution is QT extended distribution, so the OpenMoko should have a pre-installed QT extended improved distribution.
  • Developers are able to flash the freerunner to any other distrubtion they want to test, ordinary users have problems to do that, so this fact is also indicating that QT extended improved should be the distribution of choice that is pre-installed of the freerunner.
  • the big advantage of the freerunner is the open source concept - using OpenStreetMap in a car navigation system like navit on the device is really a unique selling position for the freerunner. This implies that the freerunner has a car-navigation system pre-installed e.g. 'navit' or 'roadmap' on the device and the wiki of OpenMoko has working tutorial with which an ordinary user can download and upload a map of his/her choice to the freerunner easily.
  • The wiki was not divided in an area for 'novice users' of the device and 'more advanced users' that have experience with linux systems.
  • this leads to maintainance of the wiki that has no working tutorial with which an ordinary user can:
    • synchronize PIM data (contacts, tasks, ...) of kontact, evolution ... on a linux box with the QT extended improved distribution (Mac OS, Win OS should be considered too)
    • download maps of choice to a pre-installed car-navigation system on a QT extended improved distribution
    • add new language modules for spanish, italian, ... easily on the device.
  • the freerunner could have two distributions installed at the same time with Qi and removing the SD card starts the second distribution e.g SHR or ship the freerunner with two SD cards so that the user can select the distribution just by exchanging the SD card (e.g. QT or SHR).

Summary: if the shipped device and tutorials on the wiki are not tailored to novice users the sold numbers of freerunner will remain low, which would be bad, because a wonderful approach of the freerunner and the OpenMoko team should not die, because of these marketng mistakes that can be eliminated!

From the view point of developer

  • The student - developer was considered as a minor customer. The size of this market can be roughly estimated as the number of Neo 1973's sold (these were clearly developer devices) plus likely some more as it is not the only Linux device developers would buy. It seems that this segment was not actually tiny and deserved more attention.
  • Similarly, the market segment of the university teaching projects was not properly taken into consideration, no academic requirements were collected and there were student blogs on a web that the device performed poorly in this area.
  • After making Freerunner available, support for Neo 1973 has been aggressively dropped up till level of refusing to host the images for this device in the official OpenMoko website. Managers likely wanted to force developers to buy Freerunner ASAP but likely created a group of people who just stopped participating in development. The reasons for that are:
    • These devices are not exactly very cheap and not all developers can afford to change them on a yearly basis.
    • Free software folk just universally hate any aggressive manipulation by marketing people.
  • The on screen terminal that was available in the first releases has been dropped later, making pointless any porting of the command line software (that some developers would be using). With all respect to usability, problems should be solved by adding features, not by removing them.
  • Some developers with high reputation in the FOSS world that initially worked for Openmoko have left the development team. This created certain negative aura (not necessarily deserved). It was a responsibility of the marketing section to work on restoring the positive image rather than just choosing the dead silence instead.
  • Splitting very limited efforts between so many distributions shows the total absence of any priority management.

In general, the existing segment of students and other enthusiasts was ignored, rushing into the mass user as into holly grail. The mass user is actually difficult to get: he is far more demanding to the quality of both software and hardware, he wants something really convenient and innovative and, the worst, the software freedom for that every single GNU hacker is ready to dial by typing TTY commands on the touch screen (talking with Morse code afterwards) may matter much less. This is not necessarily a tragedy, this is how Linux started and needed to get stronger before going into masses. It looks that going into masses with Freerunner as it was has just been premature.

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