Palm's Hawkins tries to explain Foleo, again

The official Palm blog has added an audio interview with Palm’s founder, in what appears to be a new attempt to justify the recently announced Foleo.

The Foleo, which works with a smartphone, is in a category of its own and has largely puzzled the market.

It is the size of a small laptop, with a full keyboard and a ten-inch display but no hard drive and will cost US$499 after a $100 rebate. Palm hasn’t revealed details of the processor, but says it’s too slow to nicely display video. The Foleo is designed to be used in conjunction with a smartphone which it connects to via Bluetooth.

The Palm blog says that it is making available the audio interview with Palm Founder Jeff Hawkins in an attempt to answer some of the many questions people have about the Foleo, though the blog entry admits that the interview “barely scratches the surface of everything out there.”

The Foleo is not a laptop and doesn’t pretend to be one, Hawkins says in the segment. “It’s not a product for everyone,” he says. But for Treo users who travel a lot and would prefer not to lug their heavier laptops with them, the Foleo could meet their needs, he said. The Foleo would be perfect, for instance, for use on a plane, where laptops often are too big for the tray table.

The Foleo is “so light and small” that users will carry it around with them the same way they carry their Treos around everywhere, he said. Smartphone users who heavily rely on the phone for e-mail and other online functions would want to use the Foleo when they occasionally need a bigger screen or need to type a lot, he said.

Hawkins’ renewed explanations, which sound similar to descriptions of the Foleo offered at the launch in late May, may not satisfy some early critics.

“The limited functionality offered by the Foleo pales in comparison with far more capable, heavier and not much more expensive notebooks,” wrote Todd Kort, a Gartner analyst, in a report published a few days after the Foleo introduction.

The Foleo would be more attractive if it had personal information management software, instant messaging, VOIP (voice over IP), a faster processor and a better battery, Kort said.

Kort was so unimpressed with the functionality of the Foleo, that he recommends customers consider instead buying an external keyboard that costs around $80, weighs just 300 grams and “meets much of the same user needs as the Foleo.”

Comments on the Palm blog reveal mixed feelings from customers. Some say that they’re excited to try out the Foleo while others are clearly still confused about why it’s necessary. One reader wrote: “As ever, the most critical question remains unanswered - Why?”

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