6 min read

Palm Is Trying To Have Its Cake And Eat It, Too, With The Foleo

For whatever reason, I just can't get Palm's Foleo out of my head. Frankly, I still don't know what Palm intends this device to be -- is it a low-cost Linux notebook or a smartphone companion? Or none of the above?
For whatever reason, I just can't get Palm's Foleo out of my head. Frankly, I still don't know what Palm intends this device to be -- is it a low-cost Linux notebook or a smartphone companion? Or none of the above?In a recent post, "Top Five Reasons The Palm Foleo Makes No Sense," I argued that the Foleo was not a bargain as either a low-grade notebook or a smartphone add-on. In short, the Foleo makes little sense either way you look at it.

Daniel Taylor at the Mobile Enterprise Blog has decided to zag while everyone else zigs. First, he agrees with me (and much of the rest of the blogosphere) that Palm's marketing of the Foleo makes no sense. He basically argues that the device is an affordable low-grade laptop with no boot time. Great. But Taylor not only defends the Foleo, he goes so far as to embrace it as a solution, especially for road warriors:

Smartphones are valuable mobile communications tools. However, the nature of e-mail and mobile work highlights two primary limitations of these devices:

The size of the screen makes it difficult to review and provide meaningful feedback on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. This limitation makes us ineffective collaborators. How many times has a smartphone user responded to a request for feedback with a "Looks good to me!" e-mail simply because he was unable to see the whole document on the screen.

The size of the keyboard makes it difficult for users to type longer e-mail responses and to assemble more complex thoughts. How many times has a smartphone user had to wait until the end of the day to sit down at a laptop computer to provide a suitable response to an e-mail or information request?

Taylor points out the screen size and limitations of data input on smartphones. I will give him this point. But he isn't content to stop here:

Boot time is a practical constraint. Turning laptops on and off takes time -- valuable time in mobile circumstances. How many times have we interrupted an important meeting to boot our laptops? How many times have we disrupted the flow of a conversation while we boot up and log in? How many times have we been distracted by the whole process? And how many times have we waited so long for the device to boot up that we've forgotten why we were doing so in the first place?

Battery life is something that we've been told not to worry about. But who hasn't had a battery on it's proverbial "last legs?" Who has carried extra batteries just to make certain? How much time do we spend charging, turning off, and otherwise worrying about battery life?

Weight. No matter what the vendors say, laptops aren't getting lighter. Add to the weight of a laptop the added bulk and overhead of carrying a power supply, an extra battery, and possibly an optical drive. If you're planning on doing a lot of work, you also may want to carry a mouse.

Connectivity. It's hard to talk about laptop computers and not talk about the cost and complexity of accessing a network. Wi-Fi works great, but when you're traveling, you're always getting hit with the additional cost of local hotspots. Many users prefer to have a 3G card, but that's an additional expense duplicating the mobile phone's own 3G connectivity.

It's within these limitations that Foleo fits. You do everything to avoid carrying a laptop, but you still need one. When you pull out the laptop, it's both more and less of what you need. More computing. More weight. Better screen and keyboard. Overall, a more effective tool. But less mobile. Less instantaneous.

I guess I still don't get it. OK, the smartphone-pairing issue solves the perpetual laptop connectivity problem (why on earth in the year 2007 is it still so hard to find decent, free usable Wi-Fi? -- more on that rant in another post). Frankly, this seems like the strongest point in his argument.

Besides that, the rest of the argument for the Foleo assumes that road warriors can be evenly divided between the Web and e-mail crowd and those who run more robust applications. The former need a Foleo and the latter should just stick with a regular old laptop. I don't think this division makes much sense.

Why? For starters, many road warriors who primarily use their laptops for e-mail and Web access also use hosted applications. Some of those applications might work well on the Foleo's Web browser, but I am willing to bet that many of them won't. Why? Because most enterprise-grade hosted apps are certified only on Internet Explorer. If an IT department has to go to the cost and trouble of customizing each Foleo to make it work with the company's hosted apps... I just don't see that happening.

With the possible exception of the C-suite, most workers don't fit in this divide. On some business trips, e-mail and Web access might be enough, but on others users will need to create new documents and PowerPoint presentations from scratch. On top of that, most employees on the road are expected to keep up with their day jobs as well as the extra work of being at that trade show, sales meeting, management retreat, etc. And if you're keeping up with your regular work, chances are you'll need the full computing power of a real laptop.

And that brings me to point No. 3: PowerPoint. I'd wager that a good 50% of road warriors I see on airplanes use their precious plane time to work on PowerPoint presentations. In many cases, they write their presentations from scratch on the flight to their meetings. While the Foleo might be adequate for minor edits, it's not cut out for generating PowerPoint presentations or other detailed, rich documents from scratch, especially any presentations that require intense graphics or video. And if you can't create PowerPoint shows with the Foleo, you've just written it off for many marketing and sales people (not to mention journalists, bloggers, designers, etc.). And the last time I checked, they make up a pretty good chunk of the mobile workforce.

What do you think? Does the Foleo have a legitimate market position? Or is it just a poorly conceived device?