Update: Foleo smart phone companion coming from Palm

It connects via Bluetooth to other devices and will be available this summer

Palm Inc. today announced a smart-phone companion product called Foleo.

The Foleo will connect via Bluetooth to a Treo device running either the Palm operating system or Windows Mobile, and it will use a large screen and full-size keyboard to help users edit e-mail and office documents.

Palm co-founder Jeff Hawkins described the easy functionality on Folio in a Webcast demonstration of the product, which he called the first in a "major new category" of devices that serve as companions to phones. "This is the most exciting product I've worked on in a long time ... It is also a joy to use" with instant-on for access to email. "There are a lot of clever things you can do."

Palm Foleo smart phone companion

The Palm Foleo smart-phone companion.

The Foleo is built on an open Linux-based platform and will sell for $599 with an introductory rebate of $100, bringing it down to $499, according to the company. It will stay synchronized with a smart phone throughout the day at the touch of a button. The device runs the Opera 9 Web browser and will be available sometime this summer, the company said.

The Foleo turns on and off instantly and has a battery that lasts up to five hours. Palm said the Foleo will work with other smart phones besides the Treo with little or no modification.

"It is our intent to support every smart phone we can," Hawkins said. "That's our intent," he said.

The Foleo will feature a 10.2-in. screen and weigh just over 2 lb., according to the release. It will also provide Wi-Fi connectivity.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass., said Foleo is apparently separate from any plans Palm has to update its Treo line with a Linux operating system later in the year.

"I sure hope there's still a Linux-based Treo coming, but if Foleo is what they meant instead, it's a mistake," Gold said. He said Palm could do well with a Linux-based Treo with a Palm OS-based Garnet user interface atop it. However, Gold said, the Foleo would not do well in the market, since it has no multimedia player to run music or video and will only work with Palm e-mail and Outlook in Windows Mobile. "I can't think of why people would go out and buy this," Gold said. "I don't understand the market for it. They say their target market is those who do a lot of e-mails on a bigger screen, but my point is, why not get a mini laptop instead?"

One IT manager, Arnaldo Impelizieri, director of hotel technology at Grande Lakes Orlando, a resort in Orlando, said he liked the idea that Foleo runs Linux for ease in management, but wondered how users would respond. "Users like the familiar Windows interface, so I am not sure what they would say," he said.

But he added that travelers might indeed like a full-size keyboard linking to a smart phone. "I can see the traveling user taking advantage of it," Impelizieri said. "Small keyboards are too cumbersome to work on. Even a small Lenovo laptop I had was hard to use."

As for cost, he said the Foleo's seemed high. "That's not cheap, even after rebate" at $499, he said.

Another analyst, Todd Kort at Gartner Inc., said the new Foleo is too heavy and too big to be an adjunct to a phone, and is "not a good substitute for a more functional notebook computer."

Kort said the Foleo is "DOA" and predicted it will only sell to a "few thousand hard core Palm fans."

Craig Mathias, an analyst at The Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass., and a Computerworld columnist, said he liked the Foleo and predicted it would "do reasonably well" with users who are "smart phone centric" and need a bigger keyboard and display for certain functions such as e-mail. He said he personally wants one.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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