D5: Microsoft surfaces, Palm sinks

The main event (Jobs vs. Gates .. Two walk in, one walks out!) isn’t until tonight, but the Walt and Kara Show, otherwise known as the D: All Things Digital conference, didn’t skimp on the undercard. (JP is blogging the event like crazy here.)

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off Surface, novel interface technology that powers a touch-screen tabletop on which you can create and manipulate images and content with gestures of your hands. The initial units will sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 each and are likely to find homes in hotels, casinos and retail stores (along with the dens of wealthy geeks). Consensus of onlookers: Pretty cool.

Less kind was the reception given to Palm’s announcement of the product that’s supposed to be the market-creating successor to the successes of the Palm Pilot and Treo. The Foleo is billed as a “smartphone companion,” which means “extra piece of gear you need to lug around for when your phone can’t do the job.” Essentially it’s a 2.5-pound Linux computer hobbled in such a way as to make it primarily a keyboard and a 10-inch screen that uses the phone as a wireless modem. At $499, it approaches the cost of an inexpensive, full-fledged laptop. Wrote Carlo Longino at TechDirt: “The unspoken marketing message here is that users need to shell out for the Foleo on top of a Treo because the smartphone doesn’t deliver an acceptable user experience for mobile e-mail. Palm would be far better off improving its outdated smartphones, instead of focusing on creating new (and pointless) product lines, but it’s really beginning to look like that’s asking too much of the company.” And at Business 2.0, Owen Thomas painted an even darker picture: “The good news is that the Foleo is so obviously lacking in so many ways that it will spur the likes of Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Sony to come out with cheap, light subnotebooks that play well with smartphones. The bad news is that this is the likely end of Palm as an independent company. Facing a quickly dying organizer market, increasing competition in the smartphone business, and a ‘third product’ that’s an obvious nonstarter, Palm will soon have no choice but to sell to the likes of Motorola or Nokia. It’s a shame. But with Palm having so clearly lost its way, it seems an inevitability, too.”


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  • The Coach

    That Foleo has to be the stupidest piece of crap released by a once great company.

    WTF happened?

    If I see someone with a Foleo, I am walking up to them and smacking them in the head and shout, “Bad human, BAD HUMAN!”

  • Palm and Palm like devices are fast dying technolgy…the cell phone has wiped them out as being useful…most people use their cell to surf, email, and text, err and make calls…serious work is done a notebook…so the need for a Palm device is drying up…they were great up until five years ago…but like landlines are fast being shed…I went totally wireless in my home this year…have a great wireless ISP, have satellie tv, two cell phones (one work one personal) and a voicemail number with web alerts that let me hear the messages via my laptop…my latest version of a PDA not even made by Palm sits on my forgotten pc looking out the window wundering what went wrong…LOL…
    technology changes fast…goodbye pda’s say hello to my vcr when u get to the junkpile of history…

  • Back when the first iPod came out, I wondered how long it would be before the iPod or some other pocket-sized device people carry around all the time became a headless server, providing storage, wireless Internet and phone services through an array of dumb peripherals: diskless clamshell laptops, handsets or headsets, tablets, desktop terminal docks.

    When Palm’s LifeDrive came out, I thought it was a first iteration of that product and that something with WiFi and a bigger hard drive would follow. It didn’t, but maybe the reason we see the Foleo instead is because the smartphone has replaced the PDA.

    How many sub-3-pound subnotebooks can you get for around $499? With 5-hour battery life? Am I missing something?

    As long as doing real work on a spreadsheet or writing anything meaningful on a word processor requires a full-sized keyboard and some sort of screen, pundits are going to sound like idiots when they say the answer lies in enhancing smartphones.

    Conversely, there are people — and I’ll bet trade-magazine writers are among them — for whom an offline equivalent of Google Docs and Spreadsheets really is adequate to do their jobs. Do 1200-word articles that get pasted into a web-based CMS make much use of Word 2007’s features? Do feature matrices for comparison reviews that end up pasted as HTML tables in that CMS rely on VBA macors and pivot tables?

    And this has advantages over that laptop: Palm gadgets are good at mindless, minimal-config sync. Sync your Treo and the Foleo’s up to date. Update a spreadsheet on the Foleo and the Treo’s got it too and so will the desktop PC or the company file server upon the next sync. It’s not yet another device to add to the sync story.

    These days, I’m a coder, so when I travel, yeah, I have a laptop. But salespeople? Real estate agents? Project managers? Why wouldn’t this be not only adequate but desirable? It’s instant-on, it doesn’t get discombobulated if there’s no Wifi hotspot around, and it costs about as much as the copy of Office and the extended warranty for a laptop.

    It may not be obvious to writers who write about blingy tech gadgets and get a steady supply of blingy tech gadgets to try out, but I daresay Jeff Hawkins is onto somthing here. Palm may not make it, but I think the idea will.