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Palm Foleo: Hit or Doomed Thingamabob?

foleo.jpgJust saw today that Palm has released the Foleo, apparently that "other device category" Jeff Hawkins has been talking about for a few years now.

The Foleo (which is at this point an unreleased prototype) is a kind of pseudo sub-notebook thingamabob that enhances a Palm Treo.

Based on what scant technical info offered on the Palm site, the $499 Foleo has a 10" color screen and full-sized keyboard, which syncs via Bluetooth with a Treo for data (email, photos, files, etc.) and piggybacks off of the Treo's wireless connection for web surfing, or can do 802.11b WiFi. It's a full sized "companion" to a Treo and not much more — something like a prosthetic screen and keyboard. :-)

Some of my first questions about this device are:

• Does it operate without the Treo or other handheld? Can I do anything useful on this device without a Treo to get my net connection or to sync mail or photos?

• Who will buy this for $499? Notebooks and the iPhone are available or soon to be available for the same price. As far as I can tell, the Foleo can't stand alone — you must also have a Treo or other handheld device to make it fully useful.

My friend Hal reminded me that 3com produced a short-lived, co-dependent device called the Audrey. This stunted, home-focused thin client lasted all of 8 months before 3com pulled the plug. Is the Foleo the Audrey rehashed for a tiny niche of mobile device users?

If you already have a notebook computer, why would you need this pseudo-subnote-thingamabob? Are there really that many people who would do business travel with only a Treo and a Foleo?

I think the Foleo is going to be another short-lived niche of a niche product.

What do you think?

Michael Mace, a friend and a guy I highly respect, has weighed in on the Palm Foleo, and suggests it is a stealth mobile PC:

But I don't think the Foleo really is a "mobile companion." Back when I started to work at Palm (before the turn of the century) one of the old veterans of the company pulled me aside and passed along a little wisdom. "Michael," he told me, "Ya gotta think in terms of real estate. If you're in another device's real estate, you're competing with that device. Palm lives in your pocket; it competes with other things that go in your pocket. If you get bigger than the pocket, you're living in the briefcase, and you're competing with the notebook computer."

Foleo lives in the briefcase. It's displacing the notebook computer from your bag. I don't care what they call it, I don't care if Palm fully realizes it yet, but the fact is that Foleo's a notebook computer.

More to the point, Foleo is the most significant new consumer PC platform introduced in the US since the Macintosh. All you Linux heads who have been asking for a true consumer Linux PC, you finally got your wish.

I think if Foleo is truly a lightweight notebook that's open to developers, it has a chance. A chance. I'm still not sure if there is a place for a new device between a notebook and smartphone that feels like a stunted, limited, overpriced notebook. Feels like a 3rd wheel to me. But we'll see.

I wish Palm had spent all the time, money and effort refining the Treo or working on the next generation Treo, right now it seems to me they've squandered resources to release a device that's very 1999.

Reader Comments (11)

But does it run Linux? :)
May 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPete Prodoehl
Good question. If it does it will be hacked! :-)

I changed the question about WiFi, as it appears to handle 802.11b (how 2002 of it) though even with this, is it worth $500? I dunno, still feels too limited and expensive for mass interest.
May 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I just read the engadget coverage of the palm keynote at the D conf. This thing DOA. Couldn't they spend those engineering dollars on making the treo smaller and thinner than a brick? I just purchased a new cell and those Treo's are gigatious.I'm still holding out for a solid state Mac ultraportable.
May 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKeVroN
Smells like a big bomb to me...

So long Palm, it was nice knowing ya.
May 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCorWin
If this is a means of getting the ease of use of the Palm OS into a device large enough to see and type on and can stand alone, it will be a success. If it is only a big screen and keyboard for one's mobile phone, it will be a bust.
May 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Stafford
this is what they have been working on for 4 years ? i am incredulous. there must be more to it, right ? even a sharp clio circa 1998 looked better.. what happened ? remember that old animated slide jeff & donna had about all the failures of tablet/handheld've just met the latest addition !
May 30, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermax planktus

I think it will be a success. If it can play MP3, show JPEGs, and display eBooks in stand-alone it is the perfect device. As it seems to have a SD-card slot, I guess so.

I travel to places, where I don't want to leave a notebook in the hotel room behind or leave it at home simply because it is too heavy.

Hopefully it will work with BlackBerries as well.
May 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLorenz Szabo
I think it will be a complete flop. Couldn't they have at least built wifi into it? It's like Palm was shot in the head about 3-4 years ago and needs to die already. They can not seem to hear the market or understand what the market needs. And what about those models posing with the Foleo? Geez. Kind of a cool name, though.
May 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterClint Laskowski
I believe this will be a surprising success and one that could change Palm's direction. There is definately a space in the market for a device like this and finally someone has realised it.

Palm won't spend time developing a new Treo because they do not know what to do next with it...
May 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterShaun McGill
I agree with what your saying, but we all have to admit.

That's the nicest damn online demo of a product EVER! :)
May 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Sica
Shaun, I think the device might have a chance if Palm actually marketed it as it's own device. Right now it comes off as a "companion" to a Treo and that's all. We're left wondering how much of a brain and capabilities the Foleo has or if it's crippled to be dependent on a Treo or other device.

I suspect it's more powerful than Palm is revealing, but why they are hiding this I have no idea.

As for Treo, what about thinner? More pocketable? What about variations in the line for high middle and low end?

Michael, in a way this is all the more sad *because* the promo is so slick. They've invested lots of resources into a slick flash/video demo, but the positioning of the device makes it seem like a fancy add-on keyboard and screen for a Treo.
June 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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