Palm Foleo to offer companion for smart phone

Palm has launched a device it described as a companion to its Treo smartphone that looks like a small laptop and will assist users with data input.

The 1.13 kg Foleo stays connected to its smartphone through a Bluetooth wireless link and supports Internet browsing with either its own Wi-Fi card or the smartphone’s radio, Palm said. Together, the wireless networks will allow users to read their e-mail and office documents such as Word and Excel files on a large screen instead of a cramped phone display.

The Foleo PC uses the Linux OS, and is designed to synchronize with both the Palm OS and the Windows Mobile version of the Treo smartphone. However, Palm hopes to sell the Foleo to users of all types of smartphones, saying it can easily link to most smartphones based on Windows Mobile, and requires a modest development effort to link to smartphones using operating systems from Research in Motion Ltd., Apple Inc. or Symbian.

In a Webcast, Palm founder and chief executive Jeff Hawkins said the original Palm Pilot was developed to assist users who struggled to embrace bulky, complex and expensive desktops. Years later, a new problem has emerged, he said.

“There are two things that a PC has that a smart phone hasn’t. Sometimes you need a large display,” he said, citing the use of spreadsheets or watching videos as a examples. “Sometimes you want a full-size keyboard, but you can’t get them into an ever-diminutive smartphone.” Foleo was conceived but it didn’t make sense to build it right away, Hawkins said.

We had to wait until a lot of people were buying smartphones,” he said, citing analyst figures that project 200 million users within a few years. The Foleo is the first Palm launch since the company’s future was clouded by rumours of an acquisition of Motorola or another firm. The buyout never transpired, but at the time analyst Ian Grant of the Montreal-based SeaBoard Group said Palm would be wise to come up with some fresh innovation.

“Nokia, Symbian-powered products are strong on the European side of the world, but have done little on this side of the Atlantic. Palm too needs to find a RIM-beater,” he said. “Apple (with the iPhone) has helped define the space. People are looking for solutions.”

Carmi Levy, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research, agreed at the time that Palm was struggling to attract a business audience.

“RIM and Microsoft and Nokia offer enterprise-class solutions that are much easier to implement,” he said.

Palm will sell the Foleo this summer for US$499 after an introductory US$100 rebate

– with files from IDG Newswire


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