Palm's Foleo Fails To Wow

Despite addition of Wi-Fi, a full-sized keyboard, and 10-inch display, the "breakout" companion product fails to capture much buzz.

Richard Martin, Contributor

June 1, 2007

2 Min Read

The future of mobile computing? Umm, not quite.

That was the general response to Palm's unveiling of the Foleo last week at the D conference, hosted by Wall Street Journal personal technology reviewer Walt Mossberg. Hyped by Palm as "a new category of mobile device," Foleo is clearly an attempt by the Treo maker to re-create buzz around its handheld devices and overcome impressions that the Treo has an outdated operating system and a clunky design compared with flashy new products from Nokia, Research In Motion, and Samsung.

Hardware's just not enough

Priced at $500, Foleo is a Linux-based, large-screen companion device to the Treo that lets users create e-mails and edit documents using a 10-inch display and a full-sized keyboard. It weighs a relatively hefty 2.5 pounds, syncs automatically with the Treo, and has a battery life of up to five hours.

The Foleo, Palm founder Jeff Hawkins says, is the first in a line of devices aimed at redefining how people work while away from their desks. Hawkins expects that Foleo would work with BlackBerry devices from RIM and with Apple's upcoming iPhone, but he says it would be up to RIM and Apple to make that happen.

Not everyone is buying the hype. "The Foleo has taken the lead in the 2007 race for most disappointing product announcement of the year," says Gartner analyst Todd Kort. "All the secrecy tinged with hype and then this is all we get?"

But there's a whole class of mobile e-mail users turned off by the thumb-typing experience who may find Foleo more amenable, says Carmi Levy, an analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. Another plus: The Foleo comes with a Wi-Fi connection, making it, in combination with the Treo, a dual-mode device of the sort many have been waiting for.

What the new device doesn't do is address Palm's most glaring weaknesses: "Despite all the hype surrounding the new hardware," says Levy, "the key to success remains the operating system, developer support, and carrier support."

Palm has promised a new Linux-based operating system for the Treo by year's end, with devices based on the new system available in early 2008. That's a long way off in the fiercely competitive smartphone market.

"One of the missions we have at Palm is to design breakout products," Hawkins told Business 2.0 magazine last year. "It's hard, really hard, to do." The Foleo proves, again, just how hard it really is.

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