May 31, 2007 The diminishing size of smartphones and PDA's is great for portability but can have the inverse effect in regard to productivity, especially when used for web browsing and email. In response to this problem, Palm has released the Foleo, an add-on device labeled as a "mobile companion" that aims to fill the gap between the phone interface and the laptop PC by providing smartphone users with immediate access to a larger screen and full size keyboard.
Designed to act as a seamless addition to the smartphone, the Foleo promises to turn on and off instantly and is paired with the smartphone via a wireless link that automatically synchronizes data between the devices.
The vision behind the new product is to create a complete mobile computing system with maximum simplicity and flexibility according to Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm: “Smartphones will be the most prevalent personal computers on the planet, ultimately able to do everything that desktop computers can do. However, there are times when people need a large screen and full-size keyboard. As smartphones get smaller, this need increases." Presumably this means that the combination of smartphone and "companion" is designed to replace the need for laptop entirely. It remains to be seen as to whether consumers will agree.
The lightweight (2.5 pound) device lasts up to 5 hours on a single charge and uses the smartphone’s radio or the Foleo’s built-in Wi-Fi radio for general Internet connectivity. To browse the web the Foleo can use the a Treo smartphone as a wireless modem via the Bluetooth link, or alternatively use its own built-in Wi-Fi capabilities.
The Foleo also promises some useful innovations from a design perspective including forward and back buttons and a scroll-wheel that enable browsing without the need for the user’s hands leave the keyboard. Smaller and lighter than most laptops, the 10-inch screen and full-size keyboard is also suited for use on an airline tray table.
Foleo works with Palm’s Treo smartphones but Palm believes that most smartphones based on Windows Mobile should work with little or no modification. Additional software will be required for operating systems from Research in Motion, Apple, and Symbian. Foleo’s synchronization architecture is open and Palm expects to work with third-party developers to support as many smartphones as possible.
The Foleo is also a computer in its own right, featuring a Linux-based operating system, built-in Wi-Fi radio, USB port, video-out port, headphone jack, and slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion.
Palm quotes some big numbers in regard to the growing market for mobile email usage on which the Foleo hopes to capitalize. An estimated 24.2 million wireless email accounts will be in use worldwide by the end of 2007, leaping to 199 million by 2010.
The Palm Foleo mobile companion be released in the U.S. this summer at an expected cost of US$499.