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Foleo - A Mobile Companion With Legs

Wed Jul 25, 2007 - 11:18 AM EDT - By Annie Latham


When I first read about the Foleo, I’ll admit I was intrigued. Knowing Jeff Hawkins’ track record for creating well thought out mobile devices that were simple to use, my sense was that he probably had an ace up his sleeve. After attending the Foleo Sneak Peek in San Francisco, I realized I was wrong – He’s actually got a pair of aces! But before I talk about those, here are some of my “first impressions.”

As I mentioned in my commentary that appeared in the June 1 edition of Talkin’ Treo, the Foleo compares favorably to my Acer Travelmate C110.

It has the same width (10-inch screen) with a full-size keyboard. What I always liked about that Acer was that it compared favorably with “The Organizer” all-purpose, spiral notebook by Ampad that I use.

Check this out. The Foleo is roughly the same length, but it is skinnier. It felt really nice too. In fact, it was a lot more comfortable to hold than my spiral notebook.

The Little Things Make a Difference:

It flips open smoothly –-no struggling with a clasp. Just push the ON button – and just like magic, you are instantly ready to go! No waiting through a lengthy boot cycle. Since I am someone who tends to gallop through life, I found this way cool!

Before I went any further, I closed the Foleo. I know that sounds weird, but I wanted to get a feel for how easily it shut (and shut down). What can I say except that this also compared favorably to The Organizer notebook of mine. You just close the cover and it is automatically powered-off. That’s right – no waiting through “Are you sure?” messages.

So when Jeff Hawkins said in the first video that appeared on the Palm blog, that they spent a lot of time getting “the feel right” and the “hinges right,” I believe him.

The full-size keyboard has a nice feel to it and the screen was clear and sharp. No squinting!

However, on the topic of “little things,” there was something I found a wee bit annoying.

The Foleo uses an “eraser head mouse.” I wasn’t a big fan of it when I first tried it out on an IBM Thinkpad. On the Foleo, I found it kind of frustrating. Perhaps in time, I’d get used to it. You figure I’ve been enjoying the trackpad-style mouse for a while (on my PowerBook G4 and my Acer Travelmate), so of course, an eraser head would feel weird. The Palm rep assured me that a USB mouse would work fine with it. To me, that kind of defeats the whole “instant on,” “easy to use” concept since you’d have to dig out a mouse and find a flat surface to use it on. Oh well. To wrap up this section on first impressions, accessing a WiFi connection and hopping online seemed effortless. But until I road test the Foleo, I won’t know for sure. However, at the Palm Store I found that the TreoCentral web page loaded quickly and it looked great.

I also liked how it would take SD cards like the one I use in my Treo 700p. Palm refers to the slot on the side of the Foleo as a “SD/MultiMediaCard expansion slot.” That’s a mouthful, for sure. I was just glad for a simple storage solution.

As far as first impressions go, what can I say? I was impressed. Not “knock your socks off” impressed. But from a pragmatic, functional, well-thought out standpoint, the Foleo actually exceeded my expectations.

Now to shift gears and talk about “the Aces.”

Ace 1 - It’s Agnostic!

While heading back home on the BART train, I pondered my encounter with the Foleo. The first thought that came to my mind was that the Foleo has legs. It isn’t tied to a particular wireless carrier. And, I learned from the Palm rep that the Foleo is “Open” by design, meaning that there’s nothing to stop a developer from making software, accessories (i.e. printers) to work with it. It is also “Open” from the standpoint that it can potentially work with non-Palm smartphones – Like Blackberrys and iPhones. Think about that for a moment! The volume potential is huge (dare I say, ginormous?)!

Palm states boldly “The future of personal computing is mobile.” If Foleo 1.0 accomplishes its mission of helping users do more, with less, while on the go using their Treo, then it shouldn’t be long before the Foleo jumps the fence to become the mobile companion of choice for other smartphone devices.

Ace 2 - It’s Open!

The Foleo is built on the open Linux platform. A lot of Palm’s success to date has been a result of its well-established developer network. And now they are in a position to tap into the Linux developer community. The potential is huge. I’m guessing that at LinuxWorld in August, there will be some sort of announcement about the availability of SDK (Software Developer Kits) for the Foleo.

There’s a phrase that gets kicked around a lot in tech: “Killer App.” In essence, it refers to an application that drives “desire” and hardware sales. It seems to me that the Foleo could be the “Killer Device” for Linux—the “shot in the arm” needed for this operating system to become mainstream.

Yeah, the penguins have a pretty good reason to be dancing now.

And if the developer community embraces the Foleo, there should be all kinds of software and hardware companions available for this “mobile companion.”


In my column last week, I talked about Palm’s 10K SEC filing. In it, they described their objective as follows:

“… to be the leader in mobile computing. We intend to achieve this objective by providing our customers and end users with high quality innovative products, services and support that are easy to use.”

From what I can tell, the Foleo will indeed be easy to use. With the aforementioned aces up their sleeve, if Palm can successfully execute its Foleo game plan, they will be able to step out of the shadow of smartphone device makers like Research in Motion (RIM), Nokia, Motorola (to a lesser extent), and newcomer Apple, to take a true leadership position in mobile computing.

Thinking Beyond the Smartphone. Hawkins and team are carving themselves a new niche: Mobile Companion. And they’ve done a lot of work to position it as the “un-notebook.” If Palm pulls this off, even HP, Toshiba, Lenovo and others in the mobile computing space should stand up and notice.

The way I see it, the Foleo has legs and soon, mobile professionals will be doing their own version of the “happy feet” dance. Then again, only time will tell.

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