Monday, November 2, 2009

Is the Time Right for a Palm webOS Foleo?

I've been thinking a lot about Palm's discontinued Foleo mobile companion lately. It was two years ago, this past September, that Palm chose to discontinue the Foleo so that the company could focus their energy on the development of the Palm Pre and their new mobile operating system, Palm webOS. Looking forward, one has to wonder whether or not Palm will go back and redesign the Foleo for use with Palm webOS.

The Foleo was conceived by Jeff Hawkins, the father of the Palm Pilot. The Foleo was to be a "mobile companion" for Palm's Treo line of smartphones; specifically the Windows Mobile Treo 750 and the Palm OS Treo 755p. Palm had signaled that the Foleo could be opened up to support other smartphones, including the BlackBerry, at some later date after it's initial release. Unlike the Treo smartphones it was designed to work with, the Foleo was to run a completely new OS, simply called Foleo OS; meaning that Palm and their third-party developers would have to support three discrete mobile operating systems (Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Foleo OS). As you might have guessed, for such a small company, developing and maintaining three operating systems is not a position you would want to be in.

With the Foleo practically ancient history in the mobile computing field, why bring it up now? The answer is because Palm has made some changes to their mobile operating system line up. Palm has stated that they will no longer be releasing devices running Palm OS or Microsoft's Windows Mobile. That leaves Palm with only their latest software platform, Palm webOS, to be used with new products. Since Palm webOS is based on a Linux kernel, and uses web technologies for displaying the user interface, Palm's new platform could be used to drive a number of devices; not just smartphones.

From the beginning, I always thought that the Foleo's hardware was solid and well though out. I had a chance to play with the Foleo during one of Palm's sneak peek events. The hardware felt sturdy and up to to the challenges of day-to-day bumps and knocks. The Foleo had a bright 10-inch screen and a full size keyboard that I was able to touch type on. It also featured flash memory storage and a SDHC card slot for memory expansion. USB, video, and audio out ports rounded out the hardware. Comparing it to an Acer Eee PC or a Dell Mini 9, the Foleo's hardware just felt better. (To be fair, the Foleo was to be almost twice as expensive than the Eee PC. Cost drives the quality of build materials. Cost vs. function is one of the main reasons why Apple choses to not release a Mac OS X netbook.)

So that brings us back to software. In 2007, Foleo OS didn't make sense for a small company trying to contain their software development and support costs. In 2009, Palm has decided to focus their efforts around Palm webOS. A Palm netbook, powered by webOS, which has the ability to synchronize data and applications with Palm's other webOS devices, the Pre and Pixi smartphones, could be a much more powerful device than the original Foleo.

In conclusion, a new Palm Foleo would have several advantages to it. First is that it would run the same mobile operating system as Palm's smartphones. This would benefit both Palm and third-party developers since there would only be the one OS to write applications for. Secondly, in my opinion, the original Foleo hardware was well designed, and with some tweaks to the processor, memory, and video systems, would be up to the tasks expected of any of today’s netbooks. Lastly, the new management team at Palm is much better at product execution than the management team that was leading the company in 2007.

How about it Foleo Fanatics? With all the changes that have taken place at Palm since the fall of 2007, does it make sense for Palm to take another look at the Foleo? Leave your comments below.
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