- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

The June 29 arrival of Apple Inc.’s IPhone is drawing the kind of attention normally reserved for, say, a new installment in the “Harry Potter” book series. A new round of television commercials, begun the other night, confirm a public delivery date for the device, and offer some tantalizing previews of what it will contain, while press reports cite a price as high as $600 for a single device.

At the same time, however, news last week from another technology-based cell phone company, Palm Inc., may yet prove as revolutionary, if not more so.

In short, the next revolution in high-tech devices may be one you can, literally, phone in.

The IPhone will eschew the use of a stylus, or keyboard, for messaging and e-mail, instead relying on a touch-sensitive screen and your finger. The Web browser can change orientation from portrait to landscape mode, and zoom in on accommodating sites. Users will be able to play songs and movies on the phone as well.

All that’s good enough, you say, but how will it work in business? You’re on the road, you assert, and you’ve got to be in touch with the office, the Microsoft Exchange server, or the what-have-you.

I’m not sure about the out-of-the-box possibility of linking an IPhone to Microsoft’s Exchange enterprise e-mail system, though I imagine Microsoft would be foolish not to allow this, and Apple would be equally ill-advised not to try and make this happen. After all, Apple’s Mail.app software already allows Exchange connections.

This is but one place where Palm might step in. Last week, the firm announced development of the Palm Foleo, a small, fold-up device that can link to a Palm Treo running either the Palm operating system or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile. It offers a much larger screen and keyboard than the Treo phones and runs for five hours on a single charge.

It’s not a notebook computer, yet, because the software capabilities are limited. Users get the Linux operating system, an e-mail program, and editing software for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, as well as a viewer for PDF files and a Web browser. Other applications may become available, and the Foleo will accommodate SecureDigital media cards, which can go up to 4 gigabytes of storage.

Right now, in my view, the device is more of a computing “accessory” for the Palm phones. And not just for Treos: According to Palm, phones such as Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, Apple’s IPhone and the popular-in-Europe Symbian phone operating system, should each be adaptable to the Foleo’s architecture.

Suddenly, then, Apple’s seemingly consumer-only IPhone could become a business tool for even hardened road warriors.

The ability to really, truly replace a notebook computer with a cell phone and even a Palm Foleo is tantalizing in the extreme. I love having a notebook computer, but carrying it can be a hassle.

Now, extend the concept to the Foleo, which seems to be a totally solid-state device. Freed from moving parts, reliability should soar as the bulk drops.

The idea of a device that can extend the range of many different models of “smart phones” and even plainer cell phones could spark all sorts of changes in computing. This revolution may or may not be televised, but it’ll certainly be worth watching.

Read Mark Kellner’s tech blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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