March 29, 2011

I’ve long felt that the “out of office” message is ambiguous. Does it signify that someone is physically not present or does it mean that they are on vacation or have time off for some other reason. For example, I know some diligent folks who update their voice mail message every day, but I’ve never seen anyone who updates an e-mail autoresponder with a daily expectation of response time to e-mail or who activates their “out of office” on the weekends. Furthermore, I bet I’m not the only one who has received an “Out of Office” message from recipients saying they are unavailable only to get a follow-up e-mail shortly thereafter from that person. Truth be told, I’ve been guilty of such mixed messaging myself.

In an age of mobile communications, the “out of office” e-mail has often become an anachronism. This became clear during CTIA when I e-mailed several people who had the autoresponders on but were at the show fully equipped with the most capable mobile e-mail clients to date. That doesn’t mean that mobile handsets are as well-suited to composing the kinds of replies that one would compose on a PC and there may well be situations such as international flights, sky-high data roaming charges, and travel to remote regions  that genuinely preclude response. However,I think the expectation has changed to a shorter or more variable delay more driven by choice as the technological barriers fade.

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July 23, 2008

image If Apple’s MobileMe is “Exchange for the rest of us,” what New York-based startup Peek is attempting is the hardware equivalent for original Blackberry. Today, of course, RIM is scrambling to play the convergence game as well as anyone, tacking on touch screens, pitching development dollars, and beefing up media support., but for a long time it was not so. The Blackberry already had momentum when it operated on a two-way paging service and couldn’t even make phone calls. It was a mobile e-mail appliance.

And that will the exact tack taken by Peek, which seeks to simplify the way smartphone abstainers access e-mail on the go. A main target is what the company calls “family commanders” (sorry, no camouflage version among its three colors) — generally style-conscious moms trying to keep up with the latest missives sent throughout the day. For example, the sealed rubbery keyboard is designed to be fingernail-friendly. While Peek, which is the name of the company, service and the sub-$100 device, will use GSM, it won’t be distributed through carrier stores. It will require a flat monthly fee and a credit card but no contract.

image Among its differentiators, the company sees its retail distribution, easy setup and single-purpose focus. SMS and instant messaging won’t be supported, at least not at first. Peek will seek greater success than previous attempts into the mobile consumer e-mail device space such as Ogo and the strange PocketMail Composer, a personal organizer-like product that used acoustic coupling to send and receive email using an analog telephone. (PocketMail’s site and even order form remain active, but the device is listed as out of stock. The company began in 1995 under the pun-embracing name PocketScience.)

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