Back in May, Palm announced a new device, the Foleo. It was supposed to be a kind of companion for your smartphone – not only the Palm Treo, but other brands as well. The idea was that it would sync with the smartphone and give you a real keyboard to work on for email, web browsing, etc. It was kind of a Linux-powered sub-notebook, but it wasn’t designed to work as a standalone platform. And, with an anticipated price of $499, a lot of people wondered why someone would buy it on top of their phone, instead of just getting an ultra-portable laptop for a little more. It wasn’t long before blogs were referring to it as the ‘Folly-o’.
Well, it seems Palm decided they were right. In a post to The Official Palm Blog today, Palm’s CEO Ed Colligan announced that the Foleo was being dropped.
It seems the final nail in the Foleo’s coffin is that it was a completely different platform, and it was a distraction from Palm’s work to bring their next-generation Linux-based Palm OS smartphones to market. While the Foleo was also Linux-based, it was a completely different platform from the new smartphone OS. So it would be yet another platform to support for both Palm and developers, and that would be sustainable.
Going forward Palm will focus on the new Linux-based Palm OS and Windows Mobile as their two smartphone platforms. It sounds like Palm is not dropping the Foleo concept entirely, but it will wait until after they bring the new OS to market, and any revived Foleo design will share the same Linux-based Palm OS platform, so developers will have one environment to develop for and Palm one platform to support. As Colligan said in his post:
Jeff Hawkins and I still believe that the market category defined by Foleo has enormous potential. When we do Foleo II it will be based on our new platform, and we think it will deliver on the promise of this new category. We’re not going to speculate now on timing for a next Foleo, we just know we need to get our core platform and smartphones done first.
I’m sure this was a tough decision for Palm, as they were close to launch and will take a charge of nearly $10 million for the cancellation. But this is the right decision. From the very day it was launched, the Foleo was criticized for lacking features and power. Hawkins himself famously commented at the announcement that if he could change it he’d put in a processor powerful enough to support web video – and the general reaction was “Well, why don’t you?” since it wasn’t going to launch for months. It seemed like the Foleo was too weak to be a mini-laptop, yet cost too much to be a ‘cheap’ smartphone companion. It just didn’t have a niche. While some geeks, like myself, might’ve picked one up to play with it and try out hacks, I couldn’t see it being a success in the market.
I think Palm should rethink the Foleo and bring it to market later as an independent device, that doesn’t require a smartphone. Give it WiFi, even built-in cellular data. Make it a bigger Treo – with a BlueTooth headset it could even be a phone. Still give it the ability to sync with smartphones and all, but it will find a broader market if it isn’t tethered to one. And if it can really replace an ultra-portable laptop for most tasks – but it has to be significantly cheaper of you may as well buy the laptop.