Blog Post

Palm Foleo – Folded Up And Gone

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

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.

23 Responses to “Palm Foleo – Folded Up And Gone”

  1. Don’t know why anyone would be heartbroken about the death of this device. Here’s its replacement (one of many) — and it only costs $300.

    Cheap subnotebooks with flash drives will be ubiquitous. And thank god… I’m tired of carrying 8 pounds of hardware in my shoulder bag.

    The foleo could have been a nice entry in this field if it had simply been a subnotebook, instead of having positively goofy requirements that you also own a Treo. It could have been the greatest linux-based subnotebook to date. Oh well.

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    I agree with R. The problem with this device is a conceptual one — why do I need a companion to a PDA that isn’t full featured enough to replace the laptop I already have? While there are many uses for something in between a PDA/Smartphone and a laptop, they are more along the lines of a standalone device that is used for leisure pursuits. Between a laptop and PDA I have most work situations covered. Something like a Folio would be more for if I want a little thing to move around the house or even take on vacation that lets me do e-mail/IM/web browsing at the spur of the moment.

  3. “It was in jest that I wrote then: Foleo, more like fold-up-and-go!”

    Om, “Faileo” would have been a better choice. Feel free to use it if you like it. Another possibility: “OhmeNO!”

    You do have to wonder what’s going on over at Palm that induces them to trumpet this creation and then pull it less than three months later. Is Palm really behind our Iraq “policy”?

  4. The Foleo was hardly diskless – the hardware spec included a built-in Compact Flash card (up to 16 GB currently) and SD Card (8GB or so currently). This is quite respectable storage for a mini-laptop, and it doesn’t need continuous connectivity at all – unlike an iPhone, you can simply sync your email or use the Web as needed, and use offline apps installed on the device.

    However, Palm positioned the Foleo as a smartphone companion, which leads to this misunderstanding and was a mistake. It should have been sold as a lightweight, simple mini-laptop with the instant-on and simplicity of a PDA.

  5. Palm needs new management

    Bunch of Faileos! Instead of growing markets for Treo they focused on something useless.

    Elevation/Palm needs to replace Palm’s biz dev & marketing VPs.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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