What Palm really should have offered was the right kind of carrying case. When Ed Colligan, the firm's CEO, announced the Foleo handheld 'companion' a few months ago, he went into great detail about the product's design and software features, but he never addressed the one thing users would have to deal with right off the bat: how you would manage both devices. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.
Instead of focusing on why Palm abandoned the Foleo so close to the official launch, and where the company should go from here, I think it might make more sense to explore what the world might have looked like had it seen the light of day. Would the arrival of a laptop-like machine (that wasn't a laptop) have found its way to corporate users? Would it have been powerful enough a combination to displace the BlackBerry or the plethora of Windows Mobile 6 devices hitting the market? Would other device makers followed suit with their own variations on Palm's theme? The answer to all these is probably no, which could teach us something about how executive preferences are evolving.
Device consolidation has been an ongoing theme in the mobile computing space, one OEMs are reluctant to take on for fear of missing out on a niche market. Instead, users have slowly been forcing the issue themselves, by showing distinct patterns in terms of what hardware gets used for what purpose. Handhelds are good for checking up on email, voice mail or anything that can be delivered as a concise alert. Laptops are great for actually doing work, whether it's substantial word processing or surfing the internet. While Palm's Foleo may have been misguided, it attempted to fill a genuine need among handheld users who sometimes wished they could do just a little bit more.
Mobility brings the promise of access and availability, but your ability to do something with that access can be limited by the devices you choose. A CFO might be able to keep up with his company's stock price on his or her handheld, but he or she is probably going to use a notebook to dive into detailed business intelligence reports. Marketing executives would no doubt love to come into a meeting, put down their mobile phone and beam their PowerPoint presentation onto a boardroom wall, but instead they tend to lug around their notebook and a projector.
IT departments might have been resistant to the Foleo because it would have given them yet another device to manage over corporate networks. For line of business users, it's more a question of practicality. If they used something like the Foleo, they would probably consider it as a full-fledged notebook, albeit one that synched up better with their handheld. Device consolidation may not be about winnowing things down to one choice but continuing to innovate around both. What may consolidate is the kind of activity specific knowledge workers concentrate on. If a manager is overseeing strategy and merely delegating tasks, a handheld will probably fit the bill for much of their day. If they're getting their hands dirty with tactical implementation of strategy, they'll probably be toting a notebook around for some time. The problem may not have been that the Foleo was an in-between product. It's that there are fewer and fewer in-between executives.