Palm’s Foleo: Back From the Dead?

By  |  Friday, May 1, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Jeff HawkinsI was one of the few tech journalists who didn’t mock Palm’s Foleo device when founder Jeff Hawkins unveiled it at D two years ago–see my fuzzy photo to the left–and who chose not to tapdance on its grave when Palm decided not to release it after all. (Um, actually I may have been the only pundit who treated the Foleo, which was a sort of browser-in-a-subnotebook-that-talked-to-your-wireless-phone, with a shred of respect.)

So I like today’s rumor that the Foleo was not dead, but just resting: Analyst Trip Chowdry says that Palm has some iPod veterans working on a new version. If he’s correct, I don’t expect the blogosphere to formally retract all the nasty things it said in 2007. But it’s undeniable that the notion of a cheap, small computer that’s designed mostly to run Web apps rather than client software is no longer deserving of contempt: We now know the concept as the netbook, and it seems to be doing just fine in the market.

In other words, Jeff Hawkins wasn’t dumb, he was just ahead of his time–something which anybody who’s followed Hawkins’ career should have been able to figure out in the first place.

There’s actually every reason to think that Palm is indeed working on a new Foleo–because when CEO Ed Colligan killed the first one, he said it would be back, and it would be based on the platform which we now know is called WebOS:

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.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m assuming Chowdry is right. He’s the same guy who said he believed that Costco would be selling $149 iPhones last January, and who saw Google losing its technical edge to search startup Powerset a couple of years ago. But in this case, I’m guessing that Chowdry, like Hawkins, has the right instincts–and the only question is whether he got the timing right,

 
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8 Comments For This Post

  1. DTNick Says:

    I think Palm missed the target by positioning it as a mobile companion to your smartphone, which is sort of the opposite of how most people use their notebooks/netbooks (i.e. the phone is the companion to the ‘book). If positioned more as a netbook that happens to have tight integration with Palm’s mobile devices, it might go over better.

  2. DaveZatz Says:

    Agree with DTNick – Palm shot themselves in the foot. They understood the form factor, they didn’t understand the market. I played with a pair of Foleos at two different tech press events. Really liked the small size and super sprightly OS. The apps were minimal and minimalistic, but they seemed to have more powerful stuff in the pipeline. Thought it would have made a great mobile blogging tool. Then they blew it all up. I tried to get one that hadn’t been destroyed through some back channels, but never succeeded.

  3. Tom B Says:

    I was a Palm Pilot early adopter. Every model was suckier than the previous. They couldn’t nail hotsyncing, for chrissake. They should have got that bullet proof before adding ANYTHING else.

    Splitting hardware off from software (Handspring) was a stupid, brain-damaged concept.

    The Pre is a joke. “WebOS”= “all we’re gonna give you are lame web widgets”.

    They missed their chance. Game over.

  4. joecab Says:

    This Foleo is almost nothing like the first one. It’s like trying to compare the original Napster to today’s version.

  5. James Says:

    @Tom B:
    Wow, where to begin.

    webOS is not about web widgets; they’re general UI widgets that you happen to program for with languages traditionally used for web development. Not the same thing.

    Also, while the hardware/software split was a bad move in retrospect (and no, Handspring wasn’t one of the resulting companies, although it was part of the impetus), it made sense at the time with a number of different Palm OS licensees. Do you really think that pushing a software platform is a brain-damaged concept? That’s the key to longevity (and I’ll claim is one of the reasons why Palm OS isn’t completely dead yet). The plan simply backfired when the PDA market imploded and the licensees pulled out.

  6. Tom B Says:

    James: I respect your opinion on UI widgets, but if javascript were the cat’s meow, we wouldn’t need all those other languages, like C, I would think.

    As for splitting hardware and software, I think they took the wrong lesson from history. Some people believe PC’s became more prevalent because there was one software vendor, but dozens of HARDWARE vendors duking it out over price. In fact, PC’s became widely used IN SPITE of this. PC’s became widespread because IBM = business, and IBM gave DOS their seal of approval. The problem with too many hardware vendors is that a company like MSFT can’t do a good job even when they make the hardware (look at the XBox). How can they succeed with zillions of slightly varying configurations?

  7. Stilgar Says:

    I was one of those people who made fun of the Foleo, and then after they canned it the EEE PC came out and suddenly everyone’s buying netbooks. They shouldn’t have listened to Engadget. Oh well, I’m excited for the Palm Pre. Not so excited that the Pre requires an “everything” plan from Sprint. I’m hoping Palm will sell Pres directly to consumers so I can keep my SERO contract with Sprint.

  8. RupanIII Says:

    I’d love to see a Foleo Tablet.
    Even better, i’d be totally happy if it came IN a Foleo. Nobody has said it but these Tablet’s are going to need something aside from Gorilla Glass to keep them from getting damaged.
    WebOS would rule on a tablet.
    Even the JooJoo is still looking good.
    I’d rather see a company with a known track record do this.
    I’m still hoping Google’s next device is a Tablet with ChromeOS or Android because i’m a prowd new Android owner (Moment), but, i’d have gladly gone with WebOS if they had a bigger keyboard for my fat thumbs.

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