The best idea Jeff Hawkins ever had

That's what the inventor of the Treo and Palm Pilot says about the Palm Foleo. He has a tough sell ahead.

CARLSBAD, Calif.--Although he knows not everyone will agree, Jeff Hawkins is convinced Palm's Foleo is the best idea he's ever had.

If it's true, that's really saying something, from the guy who came up with the original Palm Pilot and the Treo smart phone.

Shortly after introducing the Foleo at the D5 conference, Hawkins sat down with CNET (as well as reporters from two Palm enthusiast sites, PalmInfoCenter and TreoCentral).

Q: Is this the "third baby" that you have talked about working on?
Hawkins: It is. I actually think it's going to be the biggest one of all. One of the things you try to do in product design is build what we call category-defining products. You build the first one and then it becomes iconic. That's really hard to do. We clearly did that with the Pilot, marginally less so with the Treo because there were other products, RIM and so on.

This is a whole new category. I think it's the best idea I've ever had. The further out you are, the more people have trouble understanding. It's hard to go back in time, but when we did the Pilot, there were a lot of people that thought that was a stupid idea. I mean a lot.

I'm very confident about (the Foleo). It's a challenging product to design. It's a great idea that's got a huge amount of legs to it. So this, I believe, will be the third one. At Palm, we had the Pilot--the PDA business--and we have the smart-phone business. (Foleo) is going to be the third one. Maybe there will be a fourth one someday, I don't know.

This is a mobile companion. It's for e-mail. That's what we're selling it as.

This is the third leg of the business. This is in its infancy. It's going to take a few years for the product to grow to anything of substantial size. But, you know, we didn't sell a lot of Pilots the first year. We didn't sell a lot of Treos the first year.

In a sense, mobile devices are all competing for space in the overnight bag that executives take with them. My guess is that something this large has to kick something out?
Not true. Let me give you an analogy to the Pilot. We created this organizer. That's what it was. Now, we didn't want to create organizers. We wanted to create handheld computers. We wanted to create personal computers, actually.

But to get a product accepted you have to find somebody who wants to buy it. Then you get it going. Once you get it going and you have a lot of people writing software for it, then it evolves into something else. We knew in the very beginning that it was supposed to be a little computer. But we didn't say what it was. We basically said it's an organizer and we'll find the people who want to buy an expensive organizer. And it was an expensive organizer. It was $300 or $369. Then it turned into something else.

So what is Foleo?
This is a mobile companion. It's for e-mail. That's what we're selling it as.

But what is it really?
Look, there's a lot of people that would love to have something like this as their main personal computer. There's no doubt about it

It's simple. It's small. It's fast. It's solid state. It's easy to use. Instant on and off. It's easy. I am always trying to create a better personal computer. You have to have a two-stage strategy to get to go where you want to go. You have to find that initial customer.

There is no initial customer for (ultramobile PCs). It's like a little broken PC. Who wants that? Very few people. And you are going to see that some people will like it, but not many. Just miniaturizing something isn't the right solution. The first time I learned this lesson was the IBM PC Jr. in 1985. IBM came out with this consumer version of the PC. It was a total flop. They just tried to make it smaller, make it cheaper. No one wanted it. Everyone wanted something better. It's not about just shrinking things and reducing things. You have to find somebody (for whom) this is a step up.

This (Foleo) is a step up for a person who loves this (Treo). That's how you sell your first 100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000 or whatever it is. Very quickly, and this is a key part of the strategy, is to get a lot of people writing software. We've started disclosing to developers. We are going to have about 10 or 12 people who have products when we ship. We are going to actively recruit developers. Over time, it is going to become more.

Did the Pilot ever become a full personal computer? No. Did it replace the PC? No, that was never the objective. But it became a lot more than an organizer. And the Foleo is going to be a lot more than an e-mail smart-phone companion.

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