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Palm's Foleo is DBA (Dead Before Arrival)

Posted by Harry McCracken | Tuesday, September 04, 2007 2:14 PM PT

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Breaking news from Palm: It's decided to kill Foleo, the not-quite-a-notebook, not-quite-a-handheld device that Palm founder Jeff Hawkins unveiled back at the Wall Street Journal's D conference in May. Palm CEO Ed Colligan just blogged the news, saying that the company wants to focus on its next-generation platform for smartphones, and that it still plans to release a "Foleo II" at some unspecified date. But Foleo I--the device which Hawkins called the most exciting product he'd ever worked on--will never see the light of day.

On one level, the move makes perfect sense. Colligan's absolutely right that Palm should focus on getting the future of its phones right. And Foleo had about the worst pre-release reception I can remember any product getting, ever--the conventional wisdom instantly became that it was an unimpressive product aimed at a market that doesn't exist. (I felt completely alone when I said that I wanted to try one before reaching any conclusions, and that there might eventually be a market for devices kinda-sorta like the Foleo.) The bottom line was that Foleo was likely to be a distraction at a time when Palm can't afford to be distracted--and probably a LifeDrive-like flop, too.

But on another level, it's just dumbfounding to see Palm pull the plug on Foleo at this point. It spent millions of dollars developing it. It's spent three months promoting it as a breakthrough. It was insisting a little over a week ago that the product was about to ship.

My mind's reeling with questions. Has there ever been another example of a product this high-profile failing to show up? (Probably--Apple's Rhapsody leaps to mind--but I can't think of any in the past decade or so.) How embarrassing is it for Palm to can it just when people were wondering when it would show up in stores? How could the company not have made this decision from the get-go, before the world even knew it was working on something called a Foleo? Couldn't it tell that the initial reception for the Foleo was likely to be less than glowing?

And hey, just what are the chances that the "Foleo II" mentioned in Colligan's blog post will ever turn into an actual product? The name's damaged goods, and if Palm were to pre-announce it, nobody would believe it until it showed up on store shelves.

As I've blogged before, I've been a fan of Palm products since before the time when the PalmPilot got its name. I'm rooting for the company to come out with cool stuff that helps it flourish for years to come, and there are millions and millions of Palm devotees out there who feel the same way. But lordy, do we need to hear some truly exciting news out of this company.

The upcoming phone that will apparently be called the Centro doesn't seem to be that news. At this point, everything's riding on the next-generation phone platform--which has already been delayed into 2008 after the company said the first phones would be available this year.

In Colligan's post today, he speaks of that next-generation platform:

"We are very excited about how this is coming together. It has a modern flexible UI, instant performance, and an incredibly simple and elegant development environment."

If you're a Palm admirer past or present, your instinct will be to hope that the new platform, whenever it shows up, is worthy of what Colligan is saying today about the new platform. I think it's possible it will be. And if it is, every indignity the company has suffered in recent years could turn into a distant memory pretty quickly.

So unlike a lot of pundits, I'm not declaring that Palm is toast. But after the short, unhappy, much-hyped reign of Foleo I, it's safe to say that this company's going to have to work really, really hard to rebuild its credibility...

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