Palm Foleo: Did Palm Just Kill Treo and Laptop Computer?

Boy, if you are going to make a gutsy move, there is nothing like taking out both your own product and your leading competitor’s product at the same time by rethinking the market. Palm just rethought the Smartphone, and in many ways, this new vision likely comes closer to the way most of us work now than the current generation of Smartphones do.

The Problem 

The problem most folks, including Apple, have historically ignored is that people don’t like to carry big phones. They like little phones, and both Palm and RIM sold some of the biggest phones in the segment. Yet, people also want to do e-mail on their phones, and for some time, there has been a clear desire to dump the even heavier laptop for a Smartphone. That hasn’t been practical for most of us, given the larger Smartphones are too small to live off of for the vast majority of us.

Now, a company in Europe called Flybook did create a very small laptop with a built-in phone, but not only was it still kind of large, you needed to have two cell phone accounts, which was too expensive. Still, coupled with a high degree of customization, the product was actually very successful and should have been an indicator that the market was looking for something it wasn’t getting. 

So, to net it out, Smartphones were too big to be phones and too small to do what users really wanted to use them for, which increasingly was to browse the web and write. 

Creating the Super Accessory
The one thing that Flybook users asked for when they responded to questions about what the next Flybook should be like, was a removable small phone. Talk about a big hint — this was a group that was living the dream and the only thing that, to them, would make the dream perfect was a small connected phone. 

This is what Palm has created, and it could change the segment, because if you can get the phone you want and wed it to a device that is both vastly lighter than a laptop and also vastly more useful than a traditional Smartphone, wouldn’t you rather have that? 

Granted, you’ll still have to give some things up and you’ll probably want a desktop PC for work and home, but you may not need a laptop anymore if all you do is browse the web, do e-mail, and create light documents. 

The Emergence of Modular Computing 

We’ve often thought of devices like this as all-in-one, but they age at different rates. While we may replace our phone annually, the keyboard and screen associated with an accessory like this could last four years. If you needed more capability, you could buy a better phone and not replace the entire device. Think of future iPods not as devices that, like the iPhone, would need to connect to a wireless service, but could instead simply connect to your own phone and have all of the same features. 

This concept is called modular computing and it may represent one of the futures for not only cell phones, but PCs. This concept is based on the idea that we can separate major components like keyboard, screen, storage, processor, networking, and battery into different components and then, on the fly, replace, upgrade, or otherwise change any component as our needs change.

If we need a bigger screen and a keyboard we only have to buy that, and if we want a faster processor or video subsystem, we can just change those. Generally, we already can upgrade batteries and hard drives relatively easily, and many laptops come with bays that allow for the upgrade or replacement of optical drives. 

In this instance, we are only separating the networking and voice capability from the large screen and data input while increasing battery life, but once we start thinking of creative ways to break apart and rethink the PC, who can say where this process will stop? 

In the end, with this simple product, we may be seeing the beginning of one of the biggest changes in the history of the PC, cell phone, and PDA — one that obsoletes all three as stand-alone offerings and creates a Transformer class of modular computers that adapt to our needs for technology and customization. 

It will probably take awhile for the market to get this right, and most folks simply don’t like change anyway (look back at the number of people who thought the iPod would fail). But Foleo could be bigger than you think, and if it evolves like it could, it very well might change the future of personal computing.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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