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Summary:

Seldom in the history has a device gone from being center stage at a premium technology conference to the garbage bin as Palm’s (PALM) ill-conceived Foleo. It was launched with much fanfare at the AllThingsD conference back in June 2007. Within minutes of Jeff Hawkins showing […]

Seldom in the history has a device gone from being center stage at a premium technology conference to the garbage bin as Palm’s (PALM) ill-conceived Foleo. It was launched with much fanfare at the AllThingsD conference back in June 2007. Within minutes of Jeff Hawkins showing off the device – a portable disk-less computer that acted as an adjunct to the Treo, the entire audience tuned out and started tapping out emails on their Blackberrys. It was in jest that I wrote then: Foleo, more like fold-up-and-go!

palm_foleo.jpgToday, Palm CEO Ed Colligan made it official. There are many reasons the device was dead-on-arrival. The biggest reason is that it is a disk-less device that needs constant connectivity to be useful. In other words, it is a device for a world where network connectivity is ubiquitous – either via 3G connections, WiMAX or WiFi. We are not there yet, and won’t be there for a few more years.

The New York Times’ John Markoff is one of the few gadget lovers who seem to be heartbroken about the early demise of the device. “The little time I had to play with a prototype device earlier this year was enough to underscore the potential of a disk-less portable,” he writes, pointing to web services that are popping up all over and don’t need much local computing resources. That might be, but again without connectivity, any device like Foleo is nothing but a piece of very expensive plastic.

Foleo was no different than the much hyped desktop brethern, the NetPC and/or the Networked Computer, that hogged the headlines in the late 1990s, but were promptly KO-ed by the PC, instead of killing the PC.

PCs got cheaper and cheaper, obviating the need for a NetPC. It will be no different this time around – instead the laptops continue to become lighter, cheaper, and more powerful. Connectivity options keep getting crammed into the PC platform. Today it is WiFi and 3G. Tomorrow, if Intel has its way it will be WiMAX.

The promise of pure networked computers like Foleo often runs into our desire to have disks on which we want to hoard stuff – power point presentations to junior’s videos or just the whole season of 24. Foleo didn’t solve any problem, and it didn’t do anything special. In the end it was nothing more than a utopian dream that was soon going to turn into a fiscal nightmare. So far it cost them less than $10 million, the WSJ reports. (I wonder how much it cost Palm to conduct this very expensive experiment.) It is good that Palm management woke up and realized its folly. Full marks to them for this eyes-wide-open move.

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  1. Om,

    Yep! Another Silicon Valley Folly — lots of brainiacs and rocket scientists walking around the Valley who think they can walk on water and just because they have an idea that they will get rich. Thank goodness for free markets. The markets decide, not the entrepreneurs or the idea people. The markets are in control, not the Ivy Leaguers who think they can float on air and are above everyone else. This is why I have a problem with people thinking that Silicon Valley is the center of the Earth and why I think the Valley’s culture is chalk full of reality distortion fields. Hey there Silicon Valley, when was the last time you checked in with the real “grounded” people living in Kansas?

    ’nuff said

  2. Quick Blogging: Palm Foleo Cancelled Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    [...] has a detailed analysis, check it out. sb_url_to_rate = [...]

  3. Aleksy Antoniewicz Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    I think that it all makes us work more and forget about family and other important things. One device less. That’s good.

  4. Foleo was the answer to a question no one asked, it was doomed to failure from the start. According to C|Net, this failed experiment will cost Palm a cool 10 million, but I surmise that total losses will run beyond that figure.

    The real cost will be to Palm’s already badly decayed reputation. A company that once led an entire industry now seems to have difficulty just keeping up with it. The former market leading Treo is now humiliatingly outclassed by rivals, and its operating system (PalmOS Garnet) is a dead platform that both developers and end users have long abandoned. Most Treo users have moved on to Blackberries and Windows Mobile devices, even iPhones of late.

    That said, amidst the Foleo flop there is reason for optimism. The fact that Palm was willing to humiliate itself further by killing this controversial product shows that management is listening to user reaction and market demand (or lack thereof), swallowing the poison pill in one gulp. That kind of courage shouldn’t be discounted, or discouraged.

    This leads me to believe that Think Equity, the firm that recently invested in and gained some control of Palm, may be behind this decision. Foleo’s conception predates their involvement in the company. So my hunch is Paul Rubenstien and his team came in, looked at this half-baked product, heard the deafening roar of mockery and criticism surrounding it, and said this thing has got to go.

    I want to believe that Palm is capable of making a comeback, reemerging as the innovator of yore, but I don’t hold much hope. In order for that to take place the hold outs from Palm’s yesteryears like Ed Colligan and Jeff Hawkins need to go, replaced with new talent and a renewed creative spirit.

  5. part of the reason is Jeff’s other interest . He is more keen on his study of neuro science and this might have left Folio without orphan in Palm’s Boardroom .

    i like the concept of instant boot in Foleo . but i agree there was nothing revolutionary about it . we were expecting more from Jeff . Still its too soon to write off Jeff and Palm

  6. you gota have disks. what are these people thinking? good point tough, we arent there yet, or maybe we wont ever be?

    http://www.drunknpanda.com

  7. you gota have disks. what are these people thinking? good point tough, we arent there yet, or maybe we wont ever be?

    http://www.drunkenpanda.com

  8. What about Google Gears? That would allow you to use web apps at any time.

  9. Metricz | Drive Success Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    Palm’s New Focus

    Ed Colligan, Palm’s CEO posted this message on the company’s official blog yesterday, regarding their decision to cancel the release of their Foleo product in its current form, and focus on their next generation platform.
    You can also read …

  10. Palm Foleo – dead on arrival | last100 Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    [...] makes more sense — such as composing emails, editing a spreadsheet, or using web apps. To which Foleo critics replied: “that’s why we have [...]

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