Is Palm about to introduce a web browsing tablet?

Despite all the recent punditry and pronouncements of Palm’s impending sale, the company continues to chug along on the smartphone front, while preparing to unveil a new product line. Could this new product be like the ‘Firefox Computer’ that I wrote about earlier this year? Will it compete with the Nokia N800 that I wasn’t overly enthused about? Jeff Hawkins, the brains behind Palm, has been dropping not-so subtle hints over the last few months about ‘a third line of business’ – traditional PDAs and smartphones being the other. Combined with the introduction of a new Linux based operating system (supposedly PalmOS retro-compatible) and the recent Opera announcement, it looks like Palm is poised to move up the productivity device chain from smartphone to some sort of ‘smart tablet’. Ed Colligan, Palm’s CEO, stated that this new device would not be dependent on wireless carriers, but have wi-fi connectivity. All of these factors point to a device that will compete head to head with the N800.

Palm has much to gain at this mid-tier, the spot between a cramped smartphone and a bulky laptop. Microsoft’s UMPC (Origami) devices haven’t yet lived up to the hype of being portable laptop replacements, but Palm may be able to drive the space. Building up from a the architecturally restrictive environment of PDAs and smartphones, one would hope that Palm’s engineers know how to keep bloat out of this type of product line. Third party developers for the PalmOS have already shown how powerful the decade old operating system can be, despite tight memory and performance restrictions. Palm has also learned that, even in the smallest devices (like smartphones), there really isn’t a replacement for a real keyboard. As I said in my review of the N800, the on screen keyboard is an inelegant solution for real productive use. Hopefully these realizations have inspired the engineers of the new product line.

Obviously price-point, battery life, and ubiquitous connectivity will play a key factor it this product line’s success as well. I could put another dozen or so things I’d like to see from this product line, but for starters I just hope that the operating system is open enough that Firefox can be readily installed on it (unlike the N800). Maybe then I’ll have my ultimate portable Firefox computer!

I couldn’t agree more

Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic (makers of WordPress, Akismet, etc.), recently posted on his blog about his desire to have a ‘Firefox computer’:

I run a PC at home and a Mac on the road. Their respective operating systems just don’t get me very excited these days. The only thing I care [sic] about is that they run Firefox. That’s because my digital day is currently spent in the following apps: WordPress, Yahoo Mail, Bloglines, 30boxes and Google.

I couldn’t agree more with Toni. I’m beginning to rely less and less on any particular machine, and more on a solid browser for my computing needs. His application roll above is similar to mine (I prefer Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar). I’ve even begun to move core computing work – word processing, spreadsheets, diagramming – online. This is clearly where Office 2.0 is headed, and I’m hoping to make that transition permanent sometime this year. Toni adds:

This leads me to the following conclusion: I want a Firefox computer. A nice, sleek, solid state notebook with a big screen that you open up and it just runs Firefox.

I’d have to agree, for the most part, that a mobile device that runs Firefox would be a true ‘killer’ device. While Toni talks about a big screen portable internet terminal, there is a smaller screen contender that I’ve been testing over the last few weeks, the Nokia N800. I’ve been running the N800 through its paces (watch for a full review soon), and can tell you that the biggest software miss on the device is the choice of Opera instead of Firefox as the browser. Since Nokia had the wisdom to build an open device – on Linux no less – the chances of a Firefox browser being ported over are high. With the addition of a built-in keyboard – and maybe a larger screen – Toni’s Firefox computer is not as far away is we may think.

It’ll cost you $2,000 for a Samsung UMPC….what??

My pal Marc Perton writes over at Engadget that Samsung is going to sell their UMPC for approximately $2,000 in Korean. What!?!? This thing was supposed to be a sub-$500 machine! Ok, so Samsung will include a bunch of accessories for that price, but lets be realistic here. Can you imagine plopping down that kind of cash and not get a full fledged tablet PC?

UPDATE:  Engadget issued an update in which Samsung claims the actual price in the US will be closer to $700.  Also, it looks like Samsung will release this on May 1 at a launch party in the Bay Area.