Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

The Foleo – What Palm got right, and where they went wrong…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 12, 2007

I sent this to Palm Addicts back on June 9th, and now it’s time to flesh it out a bit more with some updates.

Recently, Palm announced the Foleo, a “Treo Companion” which works in conjunction with your Treo Smartphone (and in the future, other brands). Jeff Hawkins feels this will revolutionize the way we will use and interact with smartphones. That might have been the case a year ago, but most people who have seen the announcement have been underwhelmed with the product announcement. Some think it’s a great idea, but most see it as a still-born product that will only sell a few thousand units, nothing near the amount needed to make it a viable product.

What they got right…

Instant on – people need mobile devices to be available quickly. PDA and Smartphone users are accustomed to “instant on” and being able to use the device right away, so this was a definite “must-have” in a mobile companion.

Flash storage – mobile devices need to have a reliable and low power method for storage, and flash storage is the most reliable means to do it. No mention has been made as to what is the size of the flash device, nor about how much is user accessible for mail and document storage. Update: There’s a Compact Flash card slot installed internally behind the battery, so it’s possible the device could have the storage upgraded in the future. It will ship with 128MB of non-volitile memory, shared between the OS and user data.

Clean and simple user interface – this has been Palm’s claim to fame since the original “Palm Pilot”. Simple, fast, and easy to use. The Zen of Palm.

Linux OS – this is what Palm OS6 (aka Cobalt) should have been. Hardware guys don’t like writing a multitude of device drivers for a multitude of platforms. If OS 6 had been based on Linux instead of being home-grown, it would be a very different mobile landscape right now. Enough said.

SD Card slot – Instant compatibility with all their handhelds and smartphones. Use the Foleo to download content from the Inter or Intranets via Wi-Fi to the card, and plunk it back into your Treo. They should ship the Foleo with a mini-SD card adapter, for all those Treo 755p users.

USB port – hopefully this lets you access thumb drives AND peripherals. Not much has been said as to whether this is a device port (sync to PC or use as card reader) or host (peripheral) port, or what speed it runs at (USB 1.1 or 2.0). That will have to be seen at the product launch. Update: It is a USB host port, with host drivers that should let you use an external keyboard, mouse or USB flash drives. No mention of other peripherals at this point.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – The lack of Wi-Fi has long been a thorn in the side of Treo users. It’s basically a Palm OS kernel issue, one that could have been avoided by using Linux. Both wireless technologies are essential these days in a mobile device. Update: Wi-Fi is 802.11b

Where they went wrong…

No touch screen/tablet option – here’s where Palm really blew it! They’ve basically had over a decade’s worth of experience building “mini-tablets”, and they build…. a light-duty laptop. Web browsing can really lend itself towards a tablet design. Imagine a portrait device with a touch screen and forward, back and scroll controls. Just tap to click links. Can’t you imagine yourself sitting at a coffee shop, sipping a java and reading the news that way? They could’ve implemented a detachable keyboard, or a “twist and swivel” one that folds back onto itself, in order to make their “Treo Companion” product complete.

No web cam, built-in mic or speakers for Video Conferencing – video phones are the future. If Palm isn’t going to put a person facing camera into it’s phones, then it SHOULD’VE gone into a companion product. Most new laptops have built-in webcams, and it’s not like Palm doesn’t buy the exact same chip cam by the thousands for the Treos. If they had the camera, they should’ve also had a VOIP softphone, and Bluetooth support for Headsets for private calls. Look at the Nokia N800 as an example of portable platform done right.

No developers tools announced – Linux has an amazing developer community, and so does Palm OS. Palm should have built hype about the Foleo platform by releasing developers kits and related materials, like Apple or Microsoft does with their product announcements. Nokia has built up a open-source project (http://maemo.org/) around it’s Internet Tablets, which are doing quite well in their niche market. Instead, Palm’s leaving everything to the official product launch… Ho hummmmm, snore…. Wake me when (if?) it hits the shelves… Update: Developer tools are supposed to be released at product launch, according to an e-mail from the Palm Developer’s Network.

Price & Lots of Competition…
Now, here’s where Palm got trumped, big time! They announce the Foleo for $499 after a $100 introductory rebate. The same week, Asus and VIA announce their mini-laptop platforms. The Via Nanobook will go for $600 USD, and the Asus Eee PC for $199-299 USD (depending on storage and screen size). The Asus announcement really trumps them. Linux powered, similar specs WITH a webcam mic & speakers, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and a standard 56K modem (apparently no Bluetooth).

That doesn’t include all the UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) and MIMD (Mobile Internet Multimedia Device) product announcements this week, of which there were quite a few. So, Palm’s going to have an uphill battle on what they thought was a “revolutionary” product. They could turn it around, if they change the price point (which is the biggest acceptance factor), get good developers tools in place, and allow for third-party applications. So, in a few months we’ll see whether the Foleo makes the news, or the obituaries.

The Updates…
Since the initial announcement, the Palm Developers network recieved an e-mail indicating that a Software Development Kit (SDK) will be available about the time of the product launch. Rumors are circulating that the Foleo will launch on August 22, which should beat the Asus eeePC to market (it’s expected in the September timeframe).

Things haven’t been quiet on the third-party side of things either; there have been several announcements of products supporting the Foleo platform. Avvenu Access ‘n Share, Bluefire Mobile Security VPN, MotionApps mDayscape, and Astraware’s Sudoku and Solitaire have been announced as being available for purchase as of the Foleo’s release date. This bodes well for the Foleo being an extensible platform, which is one of the major successes of the Palm platform.

If Palm can continue to gather 3rd party support, and if they market the product to the appropriate vertical markets, the Foleo may succeed in the business field as a mobility enhancing add-on to Palm Powered smartphones.

Updates:
2007–7-23: Foleo Fanatics has a blog entry describing some of it’s features.

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