Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thinking Foleo – Software Is Key

Over the past few weeks Palm has been spoon-feeding us little bit sized morsels of information about some of the details regarding the Palm Foleo. Many people see that Foleo as simply as yet another technology company trying to release yet another sub-notebook computer.

I believe that the Foleo can be more than that. The Foleo is a companion product to a smartphone. As far as we know, for now at least, the Foleo should work with all of the current Treo smartphones. Palm has indicated that going forward the Foleo will work with other boardband capable phones. The Foleo is, in essence, a full size keyboard and 10-inch display for smartphones. You use it for those times when you can’t or won’t use the features of your smartphone. Probably the best example we have so far of when you would use the Foleo rather than say the MacBook on which I’m writing this is for composing long email messages.

The most interesting part of the Foleo, for me and I’m guessing you also, is what else the Foleo will be able to do. Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot, the Treo, and now the Foleo, has stated that this is the first device in a new category of devices. We’ve heard that same kind of talk before about Palm’s LifeDrive Mobile Manager. The Mobile Manager was a great device concept with a number of bad design flaws. The Foleo, I believe, will be different.

Much like the original Pilot, the Foleo is free from wireless carrier restrictions. Palm will be free to design the Foleo platform as they want to without having to give concessions to the carriers. By being in the full control of the Foleo hardware and software Palm will be free to deliver innovative solutions to solve problems that their customers have. The Foleo will be the device at the cross roads of the open Linux operating system, the ingenuity of the original Pilot and flexible feature set.

When the Foleo ships later this year, it will ship with the software essentials to give business professionals the same flexibility they rely on their smartphones for in a larger packages that is continuously synchronized with the data on the phone.

Palm has included a number of useful software features into the Foleo right out of the box. First, and most important, is a data synchronization engine. The Foleo will keep your contacts and email synchronized at all times. Also built in to the Foleo will be the DataViz Documents To Go office suite that has shipped with Palm OS devices for years. The Documents To Go office suite will allow mobile professionals to use access files that are attached to email messages. Web browsing on a smartphone can often be an aggravating experience and so Palm has included the Opera web browser to allow Foleo users a better web experience on a larger screen.

In today’s mobile devices, office productivity software is all expected. To round out the features that are not included in the Foleo’s box will be a virtual private network (VPN) client from Bluefire; the mDayscape full personal information manager (PIM) suite from MotionApps; Solitaire and Sudoku games from Astraware; and the Access ‘n Share remote PC data access client software from Avvenu.

The addition of these third-party applications will mean that on launch day, the Foleo will be even more useful than we where first told during the product announcement presentation. However there is one more software package that has been only talked about in brief passing conversations: the Foleo software development kit (SDK).

The SDK is the software the Palm has promised to make available when the Foleo ships. SDKs are used to write software for the Foleo by application developers. Once the Foleo SDK has been released anyone who wants to write applications for the Foleo will be able to do so. OK, you will likely need to know now to program in the C or C++ languages first, but after that, you could use the SDK to write software for the Foleo.

Palm understands that fostering third-party application development is essential for the continued longevity of the Foleo platform. Third-party applications will be just as critical to the Foleo as they where to the Pilot and Treo product families. Despite being a first generation device, the Foleo has a feature rich hardware platform on which to develop applications including multiple storage options (Compact Flash and Secure Digital cards), video and audio out capabilities, and the ability to instantly turn the device on and off. And because the Foleo is running a version of the Linux operating system it should be possible for Linux application developers to jump on the Foleo bandwagon.

The hardest thing for me to do now is sit back and wait for Palm to complete the Foleo and begin selling it. The hardest for Palm will to get the Foleo out the door with as few bugs as possible and to hit the ground running with third-party application support. If Palm can do that the first Foleo will be successful enough to make the Mobile Companion platform more than a one trick pony.
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