Despite its nostalgia-inducing moniker, the Palm—scheduled to arrive in November at 1,500 Verizon-owned stores plus resellers—is a new kind of gadget. (“We call the category ‘Palm,’ ” Miloseski declares when I ask, though he and Nuk also bandy about the term “ultramobile.”) Unlike a full-blown smartphone—which it aims to complement rather than replace—the Palm is small enough that you can easily strap it on like Curry is doing, tuck it into a yoga-pants pocket, or drape it around your neck on a lanyard. The software strives to be similarly minimal, safeguarding you against being pelted with notifications or seduced by Instagram, Candy Crush Saga, or other distractions. Palm envisions the $350 device as an alternative to wearables such as the $399 Apple Watch Series 4.
With a handful of full-time employees, Palm, the company, is based in a historic San Francisco building that once housed a lithographer of fruit-crate labels. Its brick-walled, lofty space overlooks a tranquil courtyard and feels more like a home than a headquarters. So it doesn’t seem odd that Curry, who is famously a family man, has brought a couple members of his with him to this meeting. His father, Dell, himself a 16-season NBA veteran, mingles with staffers, while his 6-year-old daughter, Riley, occupies herself with an iPad in a pink case. (Curry’s wife, Ayesha, a Food Network host and restaurateur, is at home with their son, Canon, who was born the previous week; 3-year-old Ryan is at school.)
At 6-foot-3, the 30-year-old Curry doesn’t come off as a colossus in person, and he’s even more approachable once he slouches into a chair to chat about why he got into the consumer electronics business. Though his endorsement deals—Under Armour, Infiniti, Brita, and others—added up to, by one estimate, $42 million in 2018 alone, he’s interested in pursuing more meaningful collaborations that will help prepare him for the day when he’s no longer on an NBA roster. It’s not about “just picking partners based around financial gain,” he says, “but being part of the development process.” He’s chosen this particular project because he believes in its potential to make people—including himself—”more present, more energetic, more engaged with family.”
On the court, where Curry has turned the seemingly mundane three-pointer into the trendiest shot in basketball, he’s used to thriving by doing the unexpected. “Players tend to underestimate him because he’s always been small, and the game was always about size,” says Marcus Thompson, the author of Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry. In an era of ever more gargantuan, immersive smartphones, Palm is trying to convince consumers that they want something smaller and more subdued. It’s also intruding on the territory of giants such as Apple and Samsung, carrying the banner of a seemingly moribund brand. And even in the best of circumstances, hardware is—as tech-industry conventional wisdom says—hard. If Miloseski and Nuk’s little company defeats the odds, there will be poetry in the fact that Steph Curry helped make it happen.
The seed for the new Palm was planted at Samsung, where Miloseski and Nuk met in 2012. Miloseski, who spent five years at Google, had roots in software; Nuk, who’d previously worked for industrial-design titans Frog and Ammunition, was a hardware guy. The gadgets they cranked out from Samsung’s San Francisco design studio—fitness bands, smartwatches, headphones, and more—helped the company overcome a festering reputation for knowing only how to knock off Apple.
Wearying of the big-company grind, the pair quit Samsung toward the end of 2016. “We did a bit of soul searching,” says Miloseski. “We’d spent the greater part of 20 years addicting people to technology.” Rather than creating something designed to lure humans into spending even more time staring at screens, they wondered if they might find a way to liberate people.
Even at Samsung, Miloseski and Nuk had attempted to make technology less attention grabbing with the Gear Fit, a sleek, minimalist smartwatch. But though smartwatches let you keep your phone stowed away, they still have a tendency to intrude on real life. “Notifications come in so often that people are now looking at their wrists more often and it’s almost more rude,” says Miloseski. The noble goal seemed to call for a fresh perspective.
Seeing the smartphone’s addictive nature as a problem to be solved was an idea that was just beginning to gain cultural currency, and it’s achieved only more traction since. Tristan Harris, a design ethicist at Google, had grown increasingly concerned that tech companies were willfully engineering their apps to make them compulsive habits, as if they were slot machines; he left the company in January 2016 to crusade full time against this trend, later turning his Time Well Spent movement into a nonprofit organization called the Center for Humane Technology.
Psychotherapist Nancy Colier’s book The Power of Off had just come out when Miloseski and Nuk were devising their plans. “As soon as we show up for a meal with a friend, we’ve got the phone right there in between us,” she says. “We’re saying, ‘You’re not enough. Something better might come in.'” Even solitude has been corrupted by digital distraction, she laments: “People see their own company as something they dread.”