Jeff Hawkins is, without doubt, one of the smartest guys I have ever met. He had the vision for the original Palm (PIlot) and the person with the vision how to make handheld computing work for most of us. Later, at Handspring, he was first on the market with a functional smartphone, the Treo, back in 2001. But as successful as the Palm handhelds and the Treo were, the Foleo was not.
In 2007, the Foleo was announced as a companion device for Treos. It looked very much like a netbook today, but was much closer in its functionality to a smartphone. Planned to be sold for about $600, the Foleo was designed as a smartphone extension that would connect to a Treo PalmOS smartphone and the Internet via Wi-Fi. However, the hardware and OS were not suited to actually show all Internet content and play videos, for example. It was much more designed as a companion device which would allow you to write emails on a 10" display device instead of looking on a small 2-3" screen.
The Foleo was wrong for its time and production was halted before the device made it
to retail shelves. Hp's Touchpad, based on WebOS and unveiled today. It looks like the iPad, has a 9.7" display, a 1024x768 touchscreen, a fast 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor, and 16 or 32 GB storage space. There is a good chance that the TouchPad will be close to the Foleo's originally announced price tag of $600.
When I listened to HP, I could not help but remember the Foleo's direction. The Touchpad is also designed (albeit not exclusively) as a companion device for Pre WebOS smartphones. Information like accounts or contacts are seamlessly available across both devices and allow the WebOS user. Users can receive text messages and phone calls on the Touchpad. You can start reading a webpage on the tablet and then physically tap (yes, tap) it to your smartphone to transfer the page and take it with you. Consider it a modern version of the Palm Pilot beam feature.
If you put it all together, then there is a hint that the original Foleo idea (and yes, I was not a big fan of it back then) wasn't that bad and it was simply ahead of its time and got several things wrong. Today, we know that a tablet needs an ecosystem including a smartphone to thrive, and tablets are much more convenient to tag along on a business (or vacation) trip than an underpowered, bulky and potentially ugly Foleo (or netbook). This is a much more conclusive concept, but HP will have to work to build up its ecosystem around its TouchPad.
Today, HP touts the genius of the WebOS operating system, its speed and its ability to interact with other devices. At first sight, the TouchPad appears to be a solid tablet, even if it looks just like a copied iPad and I wish HP would have been brave enough to experiment with form factors a bit more. Will it be enough to sustain the wave of Android tablets and compete with the iPad? It is too early to tell, but chances are that HP is too late to the market with much of the focus on Apple and Google and a WebOS that has about 2% market share in the U.S. The key will be applications and this will be a monumental and insanely expensive task for HP. Microsoft knows that story all too well.
However, I am sure that Jeff Hawkins will be sitting today somewhere, smiling, that the Foleo, in the end was the right idea, even if he did not get all features right.