Why Apple's 'new Newton' will rule

While cell phone, laptop and desktop PC markets are all well established, the world of mobile computers, the field for laptops that are bigger than cell phones but smaller than regular laptops is still wide open.

They can send a man to the moon (or at least they could 40 years ago). Why can't they make a tiny computer people want to buy?

Cell phone, laptop and desktop PC markets are all well established, with dominant players in each category raking in billions in sales. But in the world of mobile computers, the field for laptops that are bigger than cell phones but smaller than regular laptops is still wide open. A shockingly large number of companies have invested millions of dollars developing products in this category. They've shipped dozens of gadgets hyped as the Next Big Thing. But the buying public has responded with indifference.

Many observers blame this indifference on problems with the category itself. What's the appeal of a mobile computer too big for your pocket and too small for a full screen and keyboard?

But I disagree. There are many scenarios -- airplanes, restaurants, meetings, around the house -- where tiny mobile computers are ideal. The problem is price, performance and user experience. To date, products have been way too expensive, slow, clunky and awkward to use.

Eventually, somebody is going to get it right. And when they do, the tiny computer market will get huge.

Since Microsoft announced the "Origami" project way back in March of last year, the category has been going nowhere. But, suddenly, everything has changed.

Events in the past 30 days lead me to conclude something unthinkable just one month ago: Apple -- yeah, I said it -- Apple! will ship the first ever successful small computer. Call it the Newton on Crack (or, more accurately, on Mac).

Here's what happened in September.

Palm Foleo

Everyone seems to think that Palm's Foleo project has been canceled. But this isn't true.

The original Foleo concept was a Linux-based, low-power clamshell device that worked exclusively with Palm's Treo line of smart phones.

What is true is that Palm CEO Ed Colligan announced earlier this month that the company plans to discontinue the use of Linux as an operating system. This companywide strategic change will delay the Foleo, which will come out eventually on a new OS platform the company is now working on. The new operating system will be finished next year.

So just to be clear: The Palm Foleo project has not been canceled. It has been given a new operating system and delayed.

The Foleo is still a dark horse candidate. If the company's new platform is great, if the company can survive long enough without real innovation on the phone side, if they can get the price down far enough -- a lot of "ifs" here -- then Palm has a shot at selling a few of these to existing Treo owners.

The Foleo has zero chance of dominating the coming boom in tiny mobile computers.

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld
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