Foleo II

This past May, with great fanfare, Palm unveiled the Foleo, a laptop that included a paradox at no extra charge.  Palm billed the Foleo as a “smartphone companion.”  Indeed, at its launch, Palm co-founder Jeff Hawkins explicitly acknowledged the shortcomings of the smartphone form factor for doing intensive e-mail.  With a 10.2″ color screen and full-sized keyboard, the Foleo would allow mobile knowledge workers to edit and view e-mail and Microsoft Office documents that reside on a smartphone (and eventually on non-Palm devices).  The Foleo also was to come with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless support, making it capable of accessing the Web (without a Palm) as well as browser-based e-mail.

This past Tuesday, Palm announced it was pulling the plug on it – at a point where the company was nearly ready to ship the product.

So what happened?

First, the reaction to the Foleo’s launch in many quarters was a collective yawn.  There was much that was good about the machine (incredible industrial design according to Jonathan Spira, who had a brief opportunity to use one, plus a lightweight, perfect form factor for working on a plane in tight quarters) but much that was not (not particularly fast and its functionality was limited because of Palm’s emphasis on making it a peripheral first and networked computer second).

Palm CEO Ed Colligan, in a message announcing the company’s decision, wrote: “Our own evaluation and early market feedback were telling us that we still have a number of improvements to make Foleo a world-class product, and we can not afford to make those improvements on a platform that is not central to our core focus.” Palm is “working hard” on its next generation software platform and the Foleo was based on a second platform and separate design environment.

Its potential, however, was unlimited.  The Foleo had been Jeff Hawkins’ “brainchild” for many years.  (Hawkins is also the inventor of the Palm Pilot.)  Hawkins and Colligan still are said to believe in this market category and already are talking about Foleo II, which will be based on Palm’s new platform.

But by then, whenever then may be, Palm will certainly not be alone in this category, the ultra lightweight diskless portable.  Others, perhaps Apple or even IBM (imagine a ThinkPad as light as a pad), might fill the void.

The Foleo, albeit a costly design exercise (Palm is taking a ca. $10 million charge to its earnings), demonstrated the potential of such devices.  Hopefully, someone has taken notice.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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