I heard about the Palm Foleo on one of Lao Laporte’s podcasts, so I looked up Palm and checked it out. It’s very intriguing. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look.
The Palm Foleo is basically a very small laptop. The appealing thing to me is that it runs Linux. I love small laptops. It’s a market I’ve always felt has been underappreciated and missed by most companies. When I first heard about the Toshiba Libretto nearly 10 years ago, I was hooked. I never actually got one, but I read lots about it and drooled over it for weeks. I hunted for a cheap one on eBay and visited pretty much every single website about the mini-laptop.
The point is that I like to travel and I like to take my computer with me. In that sense, Palm is absolutely right.
I have plenty of doubts, of course. There’s not a whole lot that’s wrong with my simple iPhone/Lenovo ThinkPad combination. My ThinkPad’s 14″display and full-size keyboard certainly meet my needs, which makes it questionable whether there’s any chance a person like me would buy a Foleo.
When the iPhone came out, it was extremely successful for a variety of reasons that many people have discussed. But let me simplify things with my top three reasons for the iPhone’s success:
- Everyone has a cell phone and nobody likes theirs
- Apple elegance, simplicity and design
- Revolutionary technology: touch screen interface and OS X on a phone
That’s it. That’s why the iPhone is successful, and it makes perfect sense.
So how can the Foleo be successful?
I’m not Palm, but here’s what I think the subcompact laptop has going for it:
- People’s laptops are heavy and people want smaller, lighter ones that can still do everything they need
- Palm elegance, simplicity and design
- Revolutionary technology: full-size keyboard, synchronization with your phone, and easy-to-use and cool-looking Linux on a tiny mainstream laptop
Why it will fail:
- People already have laptops and the Foleo isn’t good enough to replace it
- The interface is clumsy and not fun to use
- The iPhone’s on-screen touch keyboard is actually pretty darn good, the Foleo can’t synchronize with my iPhone (a deal-breaker), and their implementation of Linux doesn’t look ridiculously cool (Beryl, anyone?)
So if you can tell me that Palm will capitalize on the strengths and defeat the weaknesses, they’ve got a winner here.
The problem is that Palm is touting the Foleo as merely a mobile companion. You can type on a keyboard and look at stuff on a bigger screen, but that’s not enough to make up a computer. They need to target a higher-end market. Give the Foleo at least 8 GB memory and make it a real computer, and I believe people will easily pay more than $500 for it. Palm is shooting itself in the foot by charging too little and trying to carve out an all-new market. I really think people would pay $900 for the Foleo if it could replace their laptop, and for many people, this isn’t hard to do. I also know people who run Windows under VMware on Linux. If the machine is powerful enough to do that, we’re looking at more like $1,000 for what people would be willing to pay. Like the Cybiko, there’s just not as much of a low-end market. Target the higher end, like the iPod and iPhone are doing (they’re not the cheapest music player nor smartphone by any stretch of the imagination!), and you’ll do much better.
From a technical standpoint, here’s what I want:
- Firefox. I cannot live without it
- All-day battery life, like my iPhone which can last for multiple days at a time
- At least 4 GB memory. Apple definitely hit the sweet spot here
That’s it. Three simple requirements. You can easily list off others, such as an SD card slot, a fast processor, an amazingly good outdoor display, a camera, blah, blah, blah– but when it comes down to it, none of these things matter. The iPhone is missing plenty of features. The key is that it covers all the essentials. Thus I believe the Foleo simply needs these three simple bullet points. They get those three right, and I’m a customer. And I’ve never bought a Palm, ever. (Back in the day, I was actually a Handspring guy.)