Palm reveals 'secret' smartphone buddy
.25 pound device gets 2.5 pound accessory
Two years after hinting that Palm was designing a "new category of mobile device," co-founder Jeff Hawkins revealed the the big secret today at the All Things Digital conference.
Announced as "Palm's first smartphone companion product," the Foleo is sort of a smartphone and sort of of a laptop — but doesn't really have the functionality of either.
The Foleo is the size and shape of a very slim notebook computer (or reversely, a clown prop-sized PDA) with a 10-inch screen and full-sized keyboard. The device, however, is used mostly for smartphone functions such as viewing and editing email, office documents and other data.
Those concerned that smartphones are too small and portable computers are too functional can rest easy.
This new sublaptop is Linux-based with applications including e-mail and the Opera web browser. It also has programs to view or edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint documents and a Palm-developed PDF viewer. Data on the Foleo and its paired smartphone are synchronized via bluetooth throughout the day or with a button push. The device can use the smartphone's radio or the Foleo's built in WiFi receiver to connect to the internet. The device can't play video yet, but Hawkins said it will in the future.
Palm is also betting on developers to utilize the open-source OS to create new applications for the device.
Foleo has a USB port, video-out port, headphone jack, and slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion. It's all solid-state, with no hard disk. This allows for instant on/off with no load time or sleep mode.
The device is less than an inch thick and weighs a hefty 2.5 pounds, which Palm calls a "stylish design that fits on an airline tray table." The device is controlled with a Thinkpad-esque pointer, rather than a touch pad. Workable battery life clocks in at around five hours.
Hawkins — the man behind the Palm Pilot and the Treo — sees the new device as much needed relief for the blurry-eyed and meaty-handed.
"Foleo is the most exciting product I have ever worked on," Hawkins said. (Again, he worked on the Palm Pilot and Treo) "Smartphones will be the most prevalent personal computers on the planet, ultimately able to do everything that desktop computers can do. However, there are times when people need a large screen and full-size keyboard. As smartphones get smaller, this need increases. The Foleo completes the picture, creating a mobile-computing system that sets a new standard in simplicity."
Palm plans to introduce the Foleo this summer with a starting price of $499 after a $100 rebate. ®
Despite Palm's optimism, the Foleo sounds very similar to products that have already crashed and burned on the market. Hawking a box with extremely limited functionality for the price of a fully-fledged laptop has never been a huge winner.
3Com tried to "out-Palm Palm" with the Audrey back in 2001. That is, shortly before it gave everyone a refund when it axed the project.
So now Palm is working on out-Palming the Palm out-Palmers...
Let's try that again:
The whole thing sounds a little iffy.
Never seen a 2.5 lb Unix (Linux) box?
Look at the Nokia N800 - it runs Debian, ssh, xterm, vnc (client or server), Bluetooth, WiFi, kismet, AbiWord, various email clients, Opera.
Essentially it runs a fairly standard Linux distro and weighs 250g. Connect a Bluetooth keyboard and you have what the Fooleo should have been.
The Palm Fooleo will surely bomb - it's a product that might have been interesting in 2003 but now in 2007 it's an embarassment. Sure, the thin client/Smartphone concept will become more interesting and relevant in future, but I reckon Nokia are more on track with Sombrero than Palm are with this abomination
waiting for bootup
So many comments have praised the power of laptops, but Palm has always emphasized instant access. The difference between a PDA and anything running Windows is minutes wasted waiting for usability. I hope the Foleo does not lose this simple and vital attribute. After twenty years of processor speed development, my XP desktop still takes several minutes to get useful. I'm confident that Hawkins knows this basic quality of the stuff he's designing. Try to think "carrying a magazine" rather than "rendering 3-D graphics", and you'll see the design intent.
Many of us will need a portable docking station for our smartphone
I can't help thinking of a (near) future when smartphones will be more powerful than most people will ever need, and yet their keyboards and screens will still be constrained by the overall form factor, as all of us will want the devices to be comfortably small.
The size of the keyboard and screen will soon become the main bottleneck of these devices, seriously limiting their uses. This is the main problem that Palm is addressing with the Foleo, I believe. It's already a pain point for many users, and it will become increasingly so as smartphone become more and more powerful. Why so many people don't get it?
The other point that many people don't get is that there is an increasing number of smartphone users that would stop carrying their laptop again if they could, and would use the smartphone for everything they do. Yet many of them can't do this today because the screen and keyboard are too small for regular use. The solution can't be "buy a laptop"! It needs to be, "add a comfortable user interface to your smartphone".
Perhaps the Foleo is not a device for the year 2007, but I am sure it is one for the year 2008 or 2009.
I am also sure Palm can wait.
I also like it
I think it is pretty cute, and it does most of what I bought my (much more expensive) 11" laptop to do: connect to the Internet, connect to a projector to show presentations, do text processing. Since it runs Linux, it will also do a lot more, limited mainly by its lack of hard disk. And it fits in a slim briefcase.
If they could bring the price a bit down (to, say, $300) I think they have a very good case. Even at the current price, it may go well with corporate types where cost is less of an issue (I'm in academia, so I can't buy a new laptop every year and I certainly can't justify a smartphone).
An ideal device for the road warrior and sysadmin
Palm have actually got it right. And they have mentionned there's no reason it won't sync with other smartphones with a bit of work. I bet you can use a candybar phone for GPRS/EDGE/UMTS access via bluetooth and it provides wifi onboard. The size is perfect for travel and the weight is too (even if it could be lower, but this is 1st gen). It'll do all the stuff your smartphone will do so you've got your office apps, and it's not windows so much less of a nightmare to administrate for corporate types. Throw out those 3+ Kg laptops that sales/execs use on the road and just get these. It'll save on back problems. And for sysadmins it's the perfect cheap and useable device for running around the office. VPN tools will appear very quickly is Palm play ball and open up the underlying linux OS as well as any other linux commandline tool you can think of. at 500 or even 600$ it's a steal compared to a Vaio TX or Asus 10". So long as the exchange rate doesn't cripple it in Europe it'll do well over here for all of us who spend 1+ hours in trains every day