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Liveblogging D: Jeff Hawkins Unveils the Foleo

Posted by Harry McCracken | Wednesday, May 30, 2007 10:38 AM PT

I'm at the Wall Street Journal's D conference, and Palm's Jeff Hawkins--one of the few so-called visionaries in the industry who really is a visionary--is unveiling the Foleo, a new device that he's dubbing a "mobile companion." It's a sort of a subnotebook-looking gadget that he's touting as being a complement to a smartphone such as a Treo.

He's saying that he first conceived of it five years ago, when he and the other Palm founders were exiled at Handspring, but it was too early to build it--the technology didn't exist, and smartphones hasn't arrived.

The Foleo runs Linux, has a 10.2-inch screen, and a full-sized keyboard. Battery life is five hours of real-world use, Hawkins says. It starts automatically--Hawkins is saying there's no such thing as booting it, sleep mode, or hibernation. It's got an e-mail button that takes you to e-mail that's an exact replica of the mail on your phone (which doesn't have to be a Treo, he says).

foleo.jpg

The demo is continuing--I'll update this post as events warrant...

The demo continues: A Palm rep is showing how you pair the Foleo with a Treo (which supports Palm OS and Windows Mobile phones). In the demo, it takes a few clicks. Does it support Blackberry? They say they'll address that later.

This is a very e-mail-centric device--it doesn't support calendaring yet, though that may come.

The keyboard has an unusual approach to input that reminds me a bit of a Lenovo ThinkPad--there's a pointer nub embedded in the keyboard, a scroll wheel below the space bar, and a couple of "mouse buttons." But no touchpad.

They're showing off Documents to Go, which, as on the Treo, lets you view and edit Microsoft Office documents--Word and Excel, and some basic PowerPoint stuff (you can't create slideshows from scratch, but can make quick edits). You can view PDFs. Hawkins is saying it's easy to write applications for the device. We're seeing a Linux terminal window to show this is, in fact, Linux.

Here's a photo viewer. Hawkins is pointing out that you can switch quickly between apps, even though there's no taskbar. Applications run full-size, and they're all running all the time. There's an Apps key that gives you a menu of running programs.

The Foleo runs Opera; you can browse the Web over Wi-Fi or your phone connection. Google looks like...well, Google.

Hawkins is saying he loves a Flash-based cartoon site but can't watch it on his Treo; he can on the Foleo, which supports Flash (but not all Flash--it can't do video).

No video? Mossberg is expressing skepticism over the fact that the Foleo doesn't support "the hottest thing on the Web." Hawkins is clarifying: It does video, but not well; it can handle audio.

Foleo will be available this summer for $599; $499 after a $100 rebate. It's be available online and in Palm stores initially--it doesn't need to be sold through phone carriers.

Mossberg is pointing out that there are small laptops and $500 laptops already. "The small laptops tend to be the most expensive ones," Hawkins points out. "We're trying to do this mobile companion thing you can't get on any laptop--one-button access to e-mail--instant."

Hawkins says that the Foleo, like the original PalmPilot, is both useful and fun. As for the Blackberry? He says that it will be supported in some form, though not out of the box. "And we'd love to support the iPhone--they're going to need it." In fact, they'd like to support every smartphone out there.

Neat demo, interesting product. More thoughts later...

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