More Foleo thoughts

UPDATE: Increasingly, I think it is going to be battling sub-notebooks as the notion gains acceptance worldwide. Take this reference design from VIA – $600, 1.87lb and (reputedly) 5 hour battery life. The screen is smaller than it could be because they inexplicably decided to add some kind of card slot into the front of the screen and it doesn’t have instant on, but it is cheap, lighter, has a touch screen and will run a full OS. Again, different than the Foleo, but does the Foleo differentiate itself enough from this? I’m not sure it does. Despite their protestations of revolutionary design, the Foleo looks just like another subnotebook.

UPDATE 2: The Palm blog just posted an interview with Hawkins about the Foleo. The interview pretty much reinforces all the problems I outline in this post – Hawkins completely fails to differentiate the Foleo from any other subnotebook in his talk. He also crazily believes that you will have a 2.5 pound laptop with you just as much as you have your treo. The treo is with people everywhere they go because they can put it in their pocket or attach it to their belt. No one is carrying around the Foleo as much as they carry their Treo and if Palm honestly believes that they are more deluded than I thought. II don’t think the Foleo is a bad idea or is doomed to failure, I just think it’s the wrong product for Palm at this point.

You know, I’ve talked a lot of smack about the Foleo. In general, I’ll stand by what I’ve said, but I want to add a little nuance to the whole thing. I was reading a post by one of the folks working on the Foleo and it got the old grey matter percolating. First I am going to take Palm at its marketing and give up hope that the Foleo was designed to be the center of a realm of personal area network machines – the server in a new client/server paradigm of personal devices – and will look at it as more or less a small, cheap laptop.

With that perspective I think if you ever believed in the tablet hype, and don’t deny it some of you out there did, you can’t really mock the Foleo. Nokia’s still trying to hawk the 770 and nobody’s giving them any flack for it. I think on paper there could be a market for a small internet friendly device like Ben (of the post above) suggests – something you can sit on the couch and surf with while your main machine sits on your desktop all wired up.

So far no one has been able to actually prove that this market exists, but that’s no reason to stop trying – people thought the portable mp3 market was dead because no one could figure out how to sell it before Apple made the iPod. It’s possible that the Foleo with it’s ties to the treo could be the bit that makes it – personally I remain skeptical, I think that it resembles too much the laptop it is trying to replace. I don’t believe that people will really want to have yet another laptop in addition to their main laptop and their treo.

To me all of the interest of this laptop is in the software. It is worthwhile to have all this information sync’d up automatically all the time. But you know what? I want that on my desktop computer, too. When the Palm Desktop is so crappy as to be unusable, it’s yet another slap in the faces of Palm’s loyal consumers (don’t think Palm punishes it’s loyal customers? 700p?). Now to get the functionality it’d be nice to have always had, I need to buy a completely new device? And it won’t run on my desktop? I find that immensely annoying.

The other problem with it is that, pretty much anytime your toting your main laptop around, you’ll also need to be carrying around the Foleo. Unless you’re just going to leave the Foleo at home anytime you need a full computer for any period of time. If you’re travelling, you’d probably need both, the laptop just in case something big needs to get done and the Foleo as a carry around. Unfortunately that means you just added a whole bunch of weight en route.

As well, I don’t think that it allows the Treo itself to shrink at all. You simply are not going to have the Foleo on you at all times the way you have a phone on you. So you’ll still need to use the Treo for the same sorts of things you already do, SMS’ing and emailing while you are on the go. Still needs a nice screen, still needs a nice keyboard.

I think, though, that the main problem with the Foleo and why it is being so aggressively slammed is that it was so hyped up by Palm before and during it’s announcement. It isn’t revolutionary, it’s a scaled down linux laptop that’s cheaper as a result. They can add buttons and a wrist rest, but it still doesn’t make it revolutionary. With the company’s meat and potatoes (the treo) so under siege by every conceivable handset vendor, Palm needed to circle the wagons and get innovating on it’s handset line. Instead, it pushes out the same phone and the same software year after year, letting it’s competitors gouge huge chunks out of the sizeable lead it once had and then announces the Foleo as it’s saviour.

Honestly, I think the Foleo’s a mildly interesting device. Could be the start of something, but Palm seems to have sacrificed it’s real business to put it out and I think that’s going to be a costly mistake for them.

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