I just heard about a product that will connect to a smartphone and allow it to be used with a larger keyboard and screen. No, I am not speaking of the Palm Foleo, but of something a good bit more recent that is being developed by i-mate as a companion to its Ultimate series of devices.
Unlike the Foleo, the "shell" that i-mate is developing only contains a screen (1024 by 768 pixels), a long-life battery (80 hrs.) and a QWERTY keyboard. Everything else would be driven by the Ultimate series device that would be docked into it.
Like the Foleo, this i-mate shell is making the case that smartphones are all but ready to take over as full computing devices for some users. And it’s in this methodology that I have to wonder if in all the blasting that Palm took for announcing (and later unannouncing) the Foleo, if they were actually right about not just smartphones, but the eventual direction of mobile computing.
So What Is Happening?
Both Palm and i-mate clearly are not trying to make the case that everyone needs the same mobile device. Judging by just the placement of the Centro and Ultimate models, one can see that the needs of smartphone vary too much for one general solution to accommodate.
The one thing that they do agree on, though, is that smartphones are a small field that can grow larger if the abilities of the device, and the accessories that go with it, cater not just towards to immediate-computing paradigm that is handheld computing, but can also take a part-time job as a heavier workhorse.
For "accessories" such as the Foleo and i-mate’s "shell" to catch on, mobile software has to scale appropriately towards the user’s needs. Working from a larger screen is very different working from a smaller one and the software has to be able to adapt.
Another thing that has to scale and improve is the ability for mobile devices to play as a spoke in the connectivity wheel. From the support of large memory cards to fast and multiple wireless connections, mobile devices have to be flawless every time if they are going to play such a central role in everyone’s computing lives.
We’ll See What Happens
Palm took the guess that this could be done now. It launched and then canceled its Foleo device, but not the idea of it. i-mate is pretty much following in its footsteps and banking on the fact that its Ultimate devices are as powerful as many sub-$1000 laptops today.
Maybe Palm was right after all, and just went at it the wrong way. When i-mate releases its "shell" and Palm comes back with the Foleo II we’ll know for sure.