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Palm, one of the largest makers of handsets, announced its first so-called “mobile companion”, a device that allows owners of Palm devices to use full-size keyboard and screen to answer their emails and perform other tasks at just $499.  Besides, Palm’s Foleo allows accessing the Internet.

Palm Foleo mobile companion comes loaded with 10” screen, email client, Web browser and some basic software that allows checking emails’ attachments and performing other essential tasks. The device weighs only 2.5 pounds and can function on battery for 5 hours. Currently Foleo allows reading documents in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF formats, but in future this list may be expanded. Palm Foleo can automatically synchronize with other Palm devices using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless connection. The notebook does not have its own GSM/GPRS/3G module, which means that it always needs a device that supports the aforementioned technologies to connect to the Net.

Although designed primarily as a companion to a mobile phone, Foleo is a powerful computer on its own. Its Linux-based operating system and built-in Wi-Fi radio make it easy for developers to create new applications that can be installed with a single click in the browser. The Foleo has a USB port, video-out port, headphone jack, and slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion. This combination of capabilities in a low-cost design is new in the industry. Palm has opened its design and is actively supporting third-party software developers.

Currently Palm lists the following features for its Folio:

  • One-button access to full-screen email
  • Instant on, instant off
  • Rapid access to various applications
  • Web search and browsing via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi
  • Editors for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus a PDF viewer
  • Compact, stylish design that fits on an airline tray table

“Foleo is the most exciting product I have ever worked on. Smartphones will be the most prevalent personal computers on the planet, ultimately able to do everything that desktop computers can do. However, there are times when people need a large screen and full-size keyboard. As smartphones get smaller, this need increases. The Foleo completes the picture, creating a mobile-computing system that sets a new standard in simplicity,” explained Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm, and the visionary behind the Foleo’s concept and definition.

Foleo mobile companions work with Palm’s Treo smartphones with Palm OS and Windows Mobile operating systems. Nevertheless, Palm believes that most smartphones based on Windows Mobile should work with little or no modification. Smartphones based on operating systems from Research in Motion, Apple, and Symbian likely can be supported with a modest software effort. The Foleo’s synchronization architecture is open, and Palm expects to work with third-party developers to support as many smartphones as possible.

According to the Radicati Group research firm, skyrocketing use of mobile email creates demand for a new way of mobile computing. By the end of 2007, an estimated 24.2 million wireless email accounts will be in use worldwide, and by 2010 wireless email accounts will soar to 199 million.

Nokia, one of the primary rivals of Palm and the world’s largest maker of cell phones, announced back in 2005 its Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, which also allows advanced broadband Internet capabilities. Even though the product was available long before ultra-mobile personal computers (UMPCs) from various manufacturers, it still has not gained popularity.

“The rapid growth of smartphone sales, the faster speeds of wireless networks, and the increasing digitization of content make this the right time for the introduction of Palm's first mobile companion product,” a statement from Palm reads.

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