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Palm unveils Linux-based “mobile companion”

May 30, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 28 views

[Updated 5:00 PM PDT] — Palm has used Linux to build a “new class” of mobile device. The Foleo aims to expand the email, Internet, and productivity application capabilities of mobile phones such as the Palm Treo, by adding a full-size keyboard and a larger screen.

(Click for larger view of the Foleo)

Jeff Hawkins and the Foleo
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Very few details about the Foleo are known at this point. Opera, which supplied its Opera 9 browser for the device, has confirmed the Foleo to be based on Linux. For its part, Palm has published a few photos and brief videos of the device, while promising to release more details tomorrow.

In one video, Palm Founder Jeff Hawkins said Palm plans to ship a complete line Foleo devices supporting a wide variety of mobile phones. He predicts that the Foleo will be more successful than Palm's original Palm Pilot, which he designed, and more successful than its current Treo smartphones, which he helped design.

Palm's Foleo mobile companion in action
(Click to enlarge)

Hawkins emphasized that initial Foleo models will be focused on expanding the email capabilities of Palm's Treo smartphones. A physical button on the device opens an email client that keeps itself synchronized with the email client on the user's smartphone. Similar capabilities for office documents are also planned.

Hawkins also proudly touted the Foleo's instant on and off capabilities, saying, “Press a button, it's on. Press it again, it's off. There are no other modes.”

Given its advanced power management, and use of Opera's Opera 9 for Devices browser, it's no surpise that the Foleo is based on an ARM processor. Palm would not say which one, however. One possibility is Intel's Xscale processors, which Palm uses in Treo smartphones. Another is Freescale's ARM11-based i.MX31, which recently gained an Opera 9 port.

The Foleo weighs 2.4 pounds, according to reports, and sports a “full-size” keyboard with an 18mm keypitch, as specified in ISO standards, Hawkins said. Navigation is done via a TrackPoint nub in the keyboard, while a roller wheel below the keyboard offers fast scrolling.

The Foleo's bright 10.2-inch color screen has a resolution of 1024×600, while the device's video out port runs at 1024×768 (SXGA) resolution, to accommodate standard projectors during PowerPoint presentations.

Palm has not stipulated the amounts of flash and RAM in the final Foleo design; however, some reports have speculated it will have 256MB of RAM. User storage will be expandable via a CompactFlash slot beneath the battery, as well as via a removable SD card. I/O includes USB, Bluetooth, and Wifi.

Claimed battery life is five hours, “even while using WiFi the entire time,” according to PCMagazine coverage available here.

On the software side, the Foleo will use an unspecified version of Linux along with various other open-source software components, all adapted to make the environment more appliance-like — and more like Palm OS. For example, each application runs in full-screen mode, with user-programmable buttons used to toggle between applications.

Marketing VP Paul Cousineau commented, “Some things that are easy to do in Palm OS are hard to do in Linux. Like instant app switching and long battery life, which are inherent in Palm OS.”

In addition to the Opera 9 browser, the Foleo's software stack will include DataViz's DocumentsToGo application, aimed at letting users edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.

The initial Foleo model will be designed for use with Palm's PalmOS- and Windows Mobile-based Treo smartphones. The Foleo will connect to the phone via Bluetooth, and sync up email, email attachments, and contacts with the phone.

Concurrent with device availability, Palm plans to release an open SDK (software development kit) aimed at helping build a developer community around Foleo hardware.

Hawkins said, “This is the smallest device ever with a full-size keyboard. It's got WiFi, Bluetooth, five-hour battery life. People are going to write all kinds of things for this. Mobile email is just the entry point, like the organizer was for the Palm Pilot.”

“People are anxious to have simpler computing products today, in general,” he added.

Palm has apparently been working on the Foleo since 2005. It has been awarded several patents that may relate to the device, including “Accessory module for handheld devices”.


Palm expects to ship the first Foleo devices this summer, priced at $500 after a $100 rebate.

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