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Will Users Want Palm's 'Companion?'

Palm, the company that pioneered the market for PDAs with its namesake product, is pushing the envelope of innovation again. Today, Palm founder Jeff Hawkins showed off the Palm Foleo, described as its first "smartphone companion" product. Palm, of course, also makes the Treo line of smartphones.

In a webcast at the D5 conference in San Diego, Hawkins and other Palm officials demonstrated the Foleo, which is slated to ship this summer for $499. The sleek, 2.5 lbs. Foleo features a 10-inch screen, instant on, full QWERTY (standard) keyboard and a battery life of up to five hours. Built-in applications include e-mail, Web browsing and editors or viewers for commonly used business applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files.

Palm Foleo
Palm's smartphone 'companion.'
Source: Palm

Though you can edit files for the Microsoft apps, Foleo doesn't use Windows. It uses Linux. Palm said it also expects to make several new application announcements after the Foleo ships. Wi-Fi connectivity is also included along with Bluetooth.

Hawkins said the Foleo is "a major new product in what we believe will be a major new product category" -- that of a smartphone companion. Although initially designed to work with Treos, Palm said it wants Foleo to be a companion product for other smartphones, including Windows mobile devices and the Blackberry line from RIM.

About five years ago Hawkins said he realized the need for a companion-type device, but with the smartphone market just emerging, it was too early to jump in. Development of the Foleo began in earnest about two years ago.

"Today there are 24 million people who do their e-mail on a smartphone -- a number that's supposed to go up to 200 million in a few years," noted Hawkins.

Although the Foleo's bigger screen and full keyboard would make mobile e-mailing much easier, some analysts question whether carrying a second device is the right solution.

"They did a good job keeping it secret, but I'm not sure they did a sanity check to make sure this is what customers want -- another big device to carry around with your phone," Gartner analyst Todd Kort told internetnews.com. "To me the Foleo doesn't make sense; it's a huge disappointment."

Kort agrees with the need to extend the capabilities of today's smartphones, but he was hoping Palm would've figured out a way to do it all in one device.

But Tom Cousineau, director of Foleo product marketing, said a second device is necessary if you want a large screen and full keyboard.

"We're trying to unlock the content in the smartphone, so people can have full productivity away from their desk," Cousineau told internetnews.com. "We think there are a lot of people who really don't spend anytime at a desk, and this is built for them."