Peek: It Does E-mail, and Only E-Mail. Will it Sell?

Last Updated Sep 22, 2008 10:59 AM EDT

Peek: It Does E-mail, and Only E-Mail. Will it Sell?We've been a big advocate in this space of focus and simplicity. Focusing on a product or service with a small feature set provides your organization with a clear target around which to concentrate and innovate. Simplicity is the attribute that most likely is going to entice your customers to not just buy what you make, but fall in love with it.

So now this month comes the Peek handheld, which follows our less-is-more vision of the world to the max. It does one thing: provides users access to their e-mail. It's easy to learn and use. And best of all it's targeted at a particular user: the on-the-go soccer mom, coming complete with fingernail-protecting soft rubber keys. The Peek devices sells for $99 and requires a $20 monthly service fee.

Focused. Simple. A winner, right?

Yes, as New York Times tech reviewer David Pogue sees it

"Not everyone wants or needs a smartphone; plenty of people would rather talk on a comfortably compact cellphone instead of holding what looks like a JuicyJuice box up to their heads. For them, having a sweet, thin Peek in the purse or the pocket, just for e-mail, makes a lot of sense."
Will Peek Peak?
Harvard Business Publishing blogger Scott D. Anthony, has his doubts. Sure, 85 percent of cell phone users don't access e-mail on their handsets -- providing Peek a potentially huge untapped market.

But Anthony says that even if the company has a hit product on its hands, its business model is too easily replicated by handset manufacturers to be sustainable. Cheap hardware. Monthly service fees. Sound familiar? How long would it take Nokia to come out with a similar product?

As to me, I think this Christmas season will tell us pretty much what we need to know. Seems like a great gift idea for mom from clueless husbands and children. But the real key to look for will come in the first half of 2009 when we learn not how many units were sold but rather how much they are being used. If mom doesn't find her Peek useful, she'll be quick to cancel that $20 per month subscription fee and free up space in her bag.

Would you buy a Peek? Would you buy one for mom or wife? Does the business model make sense to you?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.