Palm Foleo: Not so dumb?

Palm Foleo Over at CNET, Erica Ogg writes that the Palm Foleo may not have been such a dumb idea after all, in light of the recent spate of sub-11″ laptops or would-be laptop UMPCs.

She mentions that many see the Asus Eee PC as the catalyst for the sudden interest by both consumers and manufacturers in this segment of the market, but that perhaps the Palm Foleo should be given a little more credit.

Photos of a subnotebook from Hewlett-Packard, reportedly called the HP Compaq 2133, showed up on the Web recently. And another major PC vendor, Acer, is also rumored to be entering the subnotebook fray sometime soon. Neither company will confirm anything, but in the case of the HP Compaq device, an industry insider tells us the product is for real and that the company began seriously looking into the category in November 2007. When the device will come to market, however, is still a question mark.

But there’s likely to be even more news on this front in the next few months. So what’s the genesis of the sudden interest in this category? It’s easy to point to the Eee PC from Asus and its surprising and instant popularity. But the Eee wasn’t the first to employ the broader concept of a mobile Web device that looked like a notebook PC, but was meant to function more as a secondary device. That was the idea brought to us by Palm founder Jeff Hawkins with the Foleo.

Hawkins, who invented the Palm Pilot and the Treo, insisted the Foleo was “the best idea he’d ever had.” The product was roundly panned by critics and eventually dumped before it even came to market late last summer.

The idea of a small form factor computer that is tinier than a notebook with solid-state memory, running a light operating system, Web access for e-mail is being tweaked and advanced by some of the biggest names in computing.

As she points out, it is the price that the Asus Eee PC (and the CloudBook) and others that is really driving the market.

She also brings up another point, and this is something I’ve discussed at length with others, that nobody knows what to call this segment of the market – subnotebook, UMPC, mobile internet device, Intel’s “Netbook” term, etc. I’ve jokenly referred to it as the “ultra-ultraportable notebook” part of the market.

I like the term “subnotebook” or “netbook” myself.

As far as the Palm Foleo, I think it was destined to fail, not just because of a lack of focus on what exactly it was going to be, but also because of some of the “features” that were going to cripple it’s usage from the beginning.

It was big enough that it was getting into laptop category (or at least the Fujitsu P1620 market) and not so ultraportable (at least as portable as it was being touted), it seemed like it was meant to help sell Palm-manufactured phones), and the software seemed very lacking or restricted.

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