Palm Introduces Foleo, New Tool for the Mobile Knowledge Worker

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 30, 2007

4 Min Read

Just moments ago, Palm announced a new type of product, the Palm Foleo.  Palm bills this as a smartphone companion and it fulfills that function admirably.  The Foleo, with a 10.2" color screen and full-sized keyboard, allows mobile knowledge workers to view and edit e-mail and Microsoft Office documents that reside on a smartphone.  Indeed, eventually, the information could reside on a non-Palm device.  The Foleo and smartphone to which it is paired stay synchronized throughout the day.  

This is clearly aimed at those knowledge workers who have more to say than one can easily write on a Palm device and who spend a good deal of time out of the office.  But you don't really need a Palm device to use the Foleo.  It comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless support.  It can access Web-based e-mail and Web sites without a Palm when you are in range of Wi-Fi - and today that is almost everywhere.  Having recently taken five two-hour flights in relatively small regional jets, my first thought was that this is the perfect form for such cramped working environments.With a Palm, the Foleo is a complete mobile solution for e-mail (that is, any e-mail that your Palm supports), attachments, and Web access.  For heavy users of e-mail who don't want to carry a laptop and who find the smartphone form factor insufficient, this is a very promising solution.  It automatically saves your work and starts up and shuts down instantly with no bootup or shutdown sequence.  Many knowledge workers use a smartphone as a key computing device but as workers need to do more and more on the go, the frustration level with a small screen and limited input capability has also grown.

Yesterday, in advance of the announcement, I sat down with Brodie Keast, Palm's senior vice president of marketing (who joined Palm late last year from Seagate).  Keast told me that the Foleo had been Jeff Hawkins' "brainchild" for many years. (Hawkins is the founder of Palm Computing and the inventor of the Palm Pilot.)  The Foleo, Keast added, was on the drawing board back when the first Treo was introduced and was in actual development for the past two years.  "The time is right" for this device, Keast told me.  Palm "views this as the first in a line of products" and "a new category for Palm."  

The Linux-based Foleo represents a great opportunity for third party developers.  Palm will release tools for developers when the Foleo hits the stores.  By choosing Linux, it is clear that Palm hopes to get replicate the success it's had with developers and build a community that will create new applications that will extend the Foleo's capabilities.  The first such application should be a printing application, since the Foleo does not support printing out of the box.  Palm already has DataViz and Opera software as partners.  In addition, it will not only support Treo smartphones on both the Palm OS and Windows Mobile (from the 680 on, numerically higher) but Palm will also certify non-Palm Windows mobile products.

Let's look under the hood, or better under the 10.2" 1024x600 display.  The Foleo comes with 256 Mbytes of storage and can be expanded to 8 Gbytes.   It weighs only 1.3 kg, and runs on Linux (more on that in a moment).  It comes with the Opera browser and sports a scroll wheel, back-and-forth buttons, and a track point that allows for easy navigation without requiring the user's hands to leave the full sized keyboard.  The battery will last up to five hours.  It has a VGA output connector so you can deliver PowerPoint presentations directly from the Foleo.  It also has slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion, a USB port, and a headphone jack.  The power adapter is a normal sized charger, not a brick.  You can also trickle charge your Palm Treo via the Foleo's USB port.  

It's a smartphone companion, not a smartphone.  It has no telephony capabilities and as far as I know, no microphone.  It will be available in the U.S. this summer (Palm is not saying exactly when) for $499 (after $100 rebate) during the introductory period.

My take is that this is a very cool, elegant application that I would want to use.  My biggest complaint about smartphones has been that I have too much to say (perhaps no surprise to regular readers here) than can easily be tapped into a smartphone's e-mail client.   There are many times where the mobile knowledge worker truly needs a full-sized keyboard and display.  To fully appreciate the Palm Foleo, you have to see it and hold it.  It's very small, very light, can be opened from any one of three sides, has an elegant finish (similar to what Palm uses on the Treo 750), and a nice radius on the outside.  It's also no more than 2.5 cm thick.   I can't wait to have one.

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