Just 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.