Palm's Constant Companion
Palm founder Jeff Hawkins unveiled the $500 Foleo "mobile companion" in a Webcast Wednesday afternoon. The "father of the PDA" claimed this Linux-powered device, which is designed to work with the firm's Palm OS and Windows Treo smartphones, is something special: "This is the most exciting product I've worked on with Palm, in fact, ever," says Hawkins. "It really completes the Palm vision."
Hawkins says he had the idea for the companion while working on the first Treo five years ago. "Smartphones continue to get smaller," he noted, saying that this increases the need for a larger screen and keyboard to work on mobile email and documents; while instantly synchronizing content between the phone and Foleo.
The company hopes to soon expand the instant-on device beyond its Treo base. "It is our intent to work with every mobile phone we can," says Hawkins, adding that the device hasn't tested with every Windows Mobile device but should work with them.
Analysts have a wide range of opinions on the companion but most question exactly who will buy this new breed of peripheral.
"This product is DOA," proclaims Gartner Inc. analyst Todd Kort. "The Foleo has taken the lead in the 2007 race for 'most disappointing product announcement of the year.' "
Kort's take is that the Foleo is "too big and heavy to be carried around as an adjunct to a phone" while not representing a good substitute for a more fully-featured notebook computer.
"The Foleo clearly falls in the form factor no-man’s land where other hardware vendors have tried and failed to find a market," notes Info-Tech Research Group senior analyst Carmi Levy. He says, however, that Palm has to try and bring a new type of product to the marketplace since it has fallen behind in smartphone development and design.
"Its price point, $500 after a $100 discount, positions it close to the iPhone," Levy claims. "This is not coincidental given the Apple offering’s impending release."
"Palm wants to establish its new device just below entry-level notebooks, which should allow it to avoid the fate of [ultra mobile or tablet] UMPCs which cost over $1,000 and have thus far failed to gain any market traction."
Linux could be crucial for the device -- and its parent company -- Levi reckons: "Key to success will be... Palm’s ability to rebuild its developer ecosystem around the new OS just as it did with earlier versions of Palm OS."
Jack Gold at J.Gold Asscoiates, however, reckons the Foleo is unlikely to appeal to a mass market or corporate audience because it is missing key features.
Gold says that it lacks corporate connections, such as the Good Technology email system that many Treo enterprise users employ. Palm says it is working on getting more third-party email systems up and running.
Consumers are also missing out, according to Gold. "It should at least come with a multimedia player for music and video as well," he says. "I think the Foleo will ultimately be a hard sell for a mass market, though no doubt some 'power' users will buy it."
Palm hasn't revealed when the Foleo will ship yet.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung