Retrospect: A Look Back at the Palm’s Foleo

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Today we’re going to take a look at Palm’s aborted Foleo.

Announced on May 30, 2007. Foleo was a mobile computer, intended as a companion device for a smartphone. As a mobile device it looked a little ahead of its time, and in some ways a precursor to the iPad.

The Foleo was essentially a subnotebook, featuring a Linux operating system, and a large 10.4″ screen and full-size keyboard. The Foleo would pair with a smartphone via bluetooth connection allowing you to sync information between them wirelessly. It also boasted built-in Wi-Fi.

Had it been released it might have been a cornerstone of the netbook category of personal computing, and things might be a little different for Palm today.

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The Features

— One-button access to full-screen email

— Instant on, instant off

— Rapid access to various applications

— 10-inch screen and full-size keyboard

— Web search and browsing via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi

— Editors for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus a PDF viewer

— Compact, stylish design that fits on an airline tray table

— Lightweight at 2.5 pounds

— Fast, simple and intuitive navigation

— 5-hour battery life

— Linux OS for easy application development

— 256 MB of flash memory

— Syncable E-Mail client (with your phone)

‚Äî Opera web browser 

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Review

While not as robust as a full notebook, it still looks pretty impressive, especially when considering it’s target market; the casual user. The Foleo had a USB port, video-out port, headphone jack, as well as slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion.

Interestingly the E-Mail client was not be able to pass through the Wi-Fi connection. The only way this e-mail reader/composer/replier program was able to retrieve and send e-mail was through synchronization with a supported smartphone. A nice bit of proprietary hobbling that would make Apple proud. The Foleo could use other programs to access email through Wi-Fi, though, presumably the browser.

The Foleo was supposed to have been available in the summer of 2007 at a price of $499 

A number of companies had even been announced to make apps for the Foleo. LogMeIn planned to provide remote PC access capabilities, Avenuu planned to provide remote file access, Bluefire planned to provide VPN software. On July 26, 2007, Normsoft was even to provide an MP3 player for Foleo. Some at Palm suggested that the fan-less CPU would probably not be able to play back video, though others disagreed. Other companies announced plans for games, a photo editor, and even blogging tools.

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Criticism

Initial reaction to the Foleo was critical, some noting that subnotebooks had never found a large market. A vice president of research group Gartner stated that Palm has “created a device that’s not quite pocketable, but it’s not quite full function, either”. 

Even the name was mocked, they called it the Palm Fooleo, and criticized it’s inability to run Palm OS applications, lack of multimedia features, and price. 

TechRadar said “If you’ve got a mobile that can handle email, why on earth would you want the Foleo?”

Palm continued to tout the device as an alternative to the standard laptop. Cheaper, smaller, lighter, and sturdier, with a longer battery life they claimed it would be perfect for the traveller, among others. All that paired with the ability to access the internet through a smartphone when not in range of a Wi-Fi network, would have made it an interesting entry in the field, despite its general lack of computational power.

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The End

On September 4, 2007, all development was cancelled for the Foleo. So, what went wrong? Why are we talking about the iPad and iPhone and Android, and not the next gen of the Foleo?

Simply, Palm looked into their future and decided they wanted to concentrate on one platform.

Palm’s CEO, Ed Colligan, announcing that he wished to focus on Palm’s core product instead. As a result of this action Palm took on a loss of nearly $10 million dollars to earnings. Quite a hefty sum, but Colligan called it small when compared to having to support the two platforms.

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You do have to wonder at that choice, if you look at the iPhone/iPad design and compare that to the first Palm PDAs, you begin to see that Palm was ahead of their time. On nearly every level from functionality to criticism the Foleo is a precursor of the iPad. Apple’s ‘magical device’ has been widely mocked for it’s lack of robustness, and even its name, and yet it is still a hit.

Could the Foleo have been a hit? It’s hard to say, much of the appeal of Apple’s various iDevices are a combination of design, marketing and timing. Apple seems to have a magic touch. One thing is certain, if Palm had continued to push the Foleo, the mobile computing market and Palm’s own fortunes would be very different now.

If Palm had continued to push ahead with the Foleo, the mobile computing field might be very different today.

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