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Foleo Q and A

Wed Jun 6, 2007 - 11:24 AM EDT - By Dieter Bohn

Transcript of the Brodie Keast interview

Can you help explain why this devices is a better mobile companion than a laptop?

First, it's not intended to be a replacement for your laptop. It's intended to be an additional tool for business people to choose to use when it makes sense. So, if you were to compare it to a laptop, in terms of the overall experience, the first difference is that it's instant-on and instant-off. There's no boot up process, there's no shutdown process, there's one button access to your email and you're instantly there and synchonized with your smartphone. The product is easy to use with simple applications and it's always connected either though WiFi or your smartphone. So, a number of differences that make it suited for some applications, though not all.

The kind of people that it was designed around would be business people, more typically individuals than enterprise customers -- although we think it will find its way into enterprise. So think of business people who are out of the office more than half the time, they get a lot of email, they write a lot of email; maybe 50 or 100 emails a day, this is a way to stay in touch and stay current.

Use patterns could be things like working from home; for most people working from home is getting caught up on their email, opening attachments, making small edits to those attachments, passing them on, following up on links that may be in an email and then shutting down and being done with it. Another pattern may be a short business trip where you know that you have a heavy schedule yet you still need to stay connected. Another pattern could be a conference like this with all day meetings where you have a lot of things going on yet you want to stay connected. You need to express yourself in a way that's longer than a 1 or 2 line and you can't wait to get back to the office to view attachments.

So it's not intended to be a replacement for a laptop, it's not for everyone. It's for business people who are out of the office and want to travel light.

What channels do you think you're going to be selling it through? Are you just going to sell it on the website? Are you going to get this into, for example, Cingular stores?

It'll grow over time. We're going to lauch the product through, through our online store. It'll also be available though our Palm branded retail stores so people can get their hands on it and get a sense of the experience vs. just images online. After that we'll expand to regional retail distribution in the US, then international markets. Carriers are still a question mark for us, we're open-minded about that, we'll talk with them.

...I imagine you're open-minded than they are

Well, carriers sell a lot of accessories for their phones. This is a product that will make the email experience better. It will help sell data plans, so there's some interest in that. We'll see.

The way that this will connect up with Treos to get online, does it look like a computer using the Treo as a modem? What I'm asking is do you think that it will require a "Phone as modem" plan the carrier in order to work properly.

That probably varies by carrier. The Foleo itself is independent of any particular network design or policy they might have. So it's really linked to whatever you might expect on your Treo smartphone. So if you can get on the web using your Treo smartphone you can can on the web using your Foleo. Or of course via WiFi. There are two ways to go, one would be through your smartphone or one would be just through a WiFi connect.

Do you know what kind of networking the Bluetooth uses in order to get online. Does it make a dial-up connection or does it use a "Personal Area Network" like what's available with Bluetooth 2.0?

I believe it's a DUN-type of connection.

Let's go back to talking about the target market for this, because it's pretty expensive. It's $500 with a $100 rebate?

It's $499 after a $100 mail-in rebate

Can you talk a little bit about, well, first of all what's driving the price up? It seems pretty high. Is that a price point that you're comfortable with and do you think that's going to limit the market because, you know, for $599, although they're not as elegant or as small, there are laptops that do as much as that seems to do.

Well, we think it's a completely different type of product and experience from the laptop, not intended to be a replacement for it. $499 we think is a great price point; we'd love it to be lower, we think with volume and with time we can drive cost of the product and make it a lower price. Part of the reason for starting slow and focusing on [for sales] is to keep the costs of selling low so we can get aggressive in promoting the product early on.

A $500 laptop is an interesting price point. Most people spend more than that by the time they actually configure it. And again, you still need to boot up, you need to shut down, you need to launch applications, you're not always connected unless you have access to a WiFi hotspot, and it's a little bit more of a complex experience. It's a different type of tool.

So I've been gauging the reaction on the internet so far and it's ...pretty mixed. Especially on our forums, where we've had a lot of activity. I'd say about 20% of people are really excited and really seem to "get it." Another, I don't know, 30 or 40 percent kind of get what you're getting at. And then when I looked at the larger internet, most people are saying "Why do I need another device?" "Why can't I just use a laptop?"

My question is, when the iPhone came out, Ed Colligan said PC people aren't going to get the mobile experience, you need mobile people to get the mobile experience. So it seems like you guys have got something in your head about the "mobile experience" here that [other] people don't seem to be "getting" and I'm wondering is that frustrating? How are planning on getting the message out on what category this Foleo fits into? Making people not think immediately "I don't get it." When you have a PDA, right away you "get it." When you have a Treo, right away you "get it." But people don't seem to "get" [the Foleo].

So, we're what, 5 hours into it? [Good line, I laughed -- D ], so we're still could be described as "early days" and we'd like a little more time to get the story across. We think this is an entirely new category and whenever you see a new category, people always want to have some context and something that they understand today; and then they think about this new category in the context of something comparable. So it's not surprising that people want to compare it to a laptop, because it looks kind of like a laptop and that's the thing that we're all most familiar with.

It's going to take some time to education people on the Foleo product concept. The way to think about it looks like a small laptop, but you can turn it off and on instantly. You have one-button access to email. You are always connected either through your smartphone or WiFi. The applications are super-simple. It's light and portable and the price is $499. Think of it like another tool.

There seems to be a trend towards more single-purpose devices or simple devices that are instant on. You could argue that many business people carry a laptop, they have a smartphone, they have an iPod, they have a digital camera, they may have other devices; they don't carry all of those devices with them all the time, but depending on how they're planning their day or their week they may choose a subset or all of those devices. This is just another tool, another option for people to choose from. When you want to travel light, sometimes less is more.

It's an entirely new thing, it will take some time. People who get their hands on it first, who have a chance to experience the product will probably lead the way.

Let's talk about the hardware. You said you don't want to talk about tech specs. But do you know what kind of processor it has, can you talk about that? How much user-available RAM it's got, and so on?

[Note - some careful sleuthing by TC Forum members and others have helped us answer these questions - see the Q&A on the first page]

We can talk about some of that, but not all of that. As the product get closer to availability -- when it is available we'll disclose everything.*

Have you finalized the specifications for it yet? Or is it still tweaking?

It's pretty much finalized. There are some things we want to keep confidential until the product is available for a variety of reasons. I can tell you it has 256 megabytes of memory. About half of that is reserved for the operating system and applications, the other half is for user data. That memory is expandable a number of different ways. One through Compact Flash which is built inside the bottom cover. There's also an SD slot on the side of the product and further a USB port which will allow you to add a jump drive or a thumb drive to add additional memory. So there's a number of different ways to add substantial memory.

In my use of the product in a beta phase I've never needed to add memory or think about any more than I do on my Treo.

Is it 802.11b, g? For WiFi?

It's 802.11b. And the reason for that decision is, in general, when you look through the product and the technology choices we wanted to pick things that were low, were low power, were in the mainstream of where the industry is in terms of sourcing to fit in this product in order to drive the cost down. We didn't feel that 'b' was any particular bottleneck and it's also compatible with most networks.

As long as we're in that vein of leaving stuff out. That's the really hard thing about making new devices - not putting everything into it but leaving stuff out. Why did you decide to leave a cell phone radio out? A camera? Or all sort of things, a touchscreen for example. Why didn't you decide to make it a stand alone device rather than something that seems to need the Treo nearby to operate the way you mean it to?

The design process is centered around this being a companion for your Treo smartphone. When you look at the Treo, it's getting more and more powerful, you have more and more memory in the thing. In some ways, for many people, it's the only mobile computer that they have. What's really missing from it, from time to time, [is] the idea of a full-sized keyboard and display - so we focused on that and focused on email as an application. So even attachments, the compatibility of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and PDF viewer are all built around the idea that those are common attachments. Even the web browser is intended to be able to click on links that may be embedded in emails.

We want to keep the center of the design simple and focused, that's the main decision around that. In terms of adding other things like a radio or a camera; at some point, you begin to get a design that's so general in purpose that, yes, it begins to overlap some with a laptop -- that was never our intent. It also adds cost, physical size, consumes battery [life]. There are some things that work fine on the Treo. We thought the camera on the Treo was fine, the contact manager on the Treo was fine, being able to update your calendar works fine on the Treo. We we're really just focused on the things that would add unique value.

It does work without the Treo. There are some things you can do, it doesn't absolutely require that you have a smartphone next to it.

Ok, so what works without the Treo?

You can connect to the web using WiFi. You can work with your email offline and synchronize it later. You can open Word documents or create Word documents, or Excel or Powerpoint. You can do presentations. So all of those things will work fine.

But without the Treo sitting next to it, it can't grab new email over the WiFi?

It can't grab new email from the Treo. However, if there's some web-based email you want to access you can do that. So from time-to-time I'll check my Yahoo email just using the browser.

*I find it really curious that you haven't written more applications for it. Especially things like Calendar, the tasks list, an instant messaging app would have been really popular. Is it just that you're hoping that 3rd-party developers are going to take that up right away? Or was it a conscious decision not to include those things because you thought that would interfere with the Treo? Why not just a Calendar?

First, it is an open platform for development. We will encourage 3rd party developers, there'll be an SDK available at the time that the product is available. We're already working with some developers, for instance we have DataViz with Documents To Go, Opera has developed the browser on this product. It's compatible with Versamail support for WinMo products -- Outlook mobile. So there's a number of 3rd parties that we've worked with.

In terms of prioritizing these applications we felt that the contact manager was fine on the Treo and that it wasn't a top priority. Same thing the Calendar. That said, some 3rd parties may choose to do that. As you write emails on the Foleo it has full access to the contact list on your Treo and 3rd parties might take advantage of that.

The type of applications that we'd expect to see first would be support for additional phones that are not necessarily Treo smartphones. We don't have any competitive juices flowing that would motivate us to lock out competitive products - more power to them. Additional email programs, productivity apps, multimedia apps, games, etc. we'd expect to see available.

I'm still surprised that... well, actually, let me ask you this. Why are you guys announcing it now? Before it's available.. is the software that you're going to include on it finalized? Why don't you wait until the day it's available? You seem to have done a really good job keeping it under wraps up to now.

So first of all, the product's pretty far along, we're close, we're very confident in the summer as the timeframe for offering the product. D [the conference] is a real convenient event to launch a product like this and an efficient place to do this. It also is particularly cannibalistic in terms of impacting the sales of any products, so we didn't need to worry about that. We're not distributing the product through any carrier early on so we didn't have any concerns about distribution and the impact of that distribution.

Generally we like to wait until the product's available because we have a complex business that involves carriers, customers. But this is a brand new category so we have some flexibility on that. We're pretty close.

I want to cycle back now, to synchronize up with the phone. It will sync up with any Treo and you think pretty much any Windows Mobile device early on? Does that require [that] software be installed on the phone?

We'll publish a list of compatible phones when the product is available. Our priority is to focus on Treo phones first, make sure that we can certify those as compatible. In some cases new products will work as-is with Foleo. In other cases it may require a maintenance release or some sort of update. It's an integrated system with software on both sides. We are focusing on certifying our Windows Mobile products and going through that process we're pretty confident that many Windows Mobile devices may work right out of the box, so we'll certify them as well.

Now, by "out of the box," that means I can take it out of the box, turn it on, turn on the Foleo, and they'll start talking to each other? Or do I need to go and download some file and install it on the phone, or or does the Foleo send it?

You may need to make an update. It will vary depending on what phone you're using. We'll have more details on that as it comes out. If you look out longer-term, it's our intent to make this compatible with as many smartphones as we can. Palm products as well as other products.

Are you planning on going back as far at the Treo 650?

We haven't announced anything, but we'll let you know.

Because my understanding is that the PalmOS is not able to talk to more than one Bluetooth device at a time. If you've got a Bluetooth headset going it can't talk to a GPS at the same time [for example]. If the Foleo is "talking to" a PalmOS Treo, is that the only thing the Treo's going to be able to "talk to"?

I don't know the answer to that yet [fair answer] We'll have details and information about compatiblity as we get a little closer to availability.

I really appreciate you talking to me

It's been my pleasure.

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