A Mobile Companion Built for The Channel

By Joel Shore

April 18, 2008

Celio's Redfly aims to create a mobile platform that channel partners provide to enterprise customers.

In May 2007, Palm, with great fanfare, announced the Foleo, its $499 so-called mobile companion. Featuring a full keyboard that stays continually synced with a smartphone via Bluetooth, Foleo allowed edits made on one device to reflect to the other.

Widely ridiculed inside and outside the channel, the device was killed off by Palm in September, not long before it was slated for availability. A key shortcoming was the need for constant synchronization, lest the Foleo and smartphone fall out of lockstep with each other. That's a chore few would relish, or remember to do.

Now the channel appears to be getting another crack at the market for companion mobile devices. Celio Corp., a Salt Lake City startup, believes it has a better approach, one that eliminates synchronization. Its Redfly Mobile Companion was first shown earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. It started shipping in March. A distribution deal is in the works. However, at least one integrator specializing in mobile solutions has opted not to wait and quietly signed on.

The Redfly Mobile Companion extends the smartphone platform to a larger display, keyboard, and mouse. Together, Redfly and a smartphone create a single mobile platform that aims to provide easy access to e-mail, attachments, Web, and business applications.

Connecting to a smartphone via a USB cable or through wireless Bluetooth, the result is an extension of one's smartphone with a much bigger 800 x 480 screen and full keyboard. The closest analogy is inserting a laptop computer into a docking station to use an external 20-inch display and comfortable desktop keyboard. Redfly is the same: a screen and keyboard extension that contains no applications and stores no data, eliminating the need for synchronization. Applications run on the smartphone and are adjusted by the Redfly's firmware to its higher screen resolution. Since Redfly has no storage, it adds no additional management, backup, or security burden, a feature sure to be attractive to Celio's target enterprise market. Lose it and you're out $500, but there's no data on it that could fall into unfriendly hands.

This no-synchronization-necessary approach was good enough for Enterprise Mobile Inc., a Watertown, Mass. integrator and Microsoft Gold Certified partner specializing in implementation of Windows Mobile-based messaging and line-of-business application enablement across enterprise environments. The company was founded by channel legend Mort Rosenthal, founder of Corporate Software, the giant software reseller that morphed into Stream International following its 1995 acquisition by R.R. Donnelly.

"We’re happy to be one of the first U.S. integrators to offer the Redfly Mobile Companion," said Tomas Vetrovsky, Enterprise Mobile's vice president of architecture. "We consider it a strategic addition to the mobile computing solutions we are able to offer our enterprise customers." He ought to know. Prior to joining Enterprise Mobile, Vetrovsky was an enterprise marketing manager at Microsoft working with the Redmond, Wash. company's global accounts on their deployments of Windows Mobile solutions.

The Redfly device's two USB ports are compatible with USB flash drives to allow easy access to files and data. It also contains a VGA port for connecting a video projector or external display. This clever capability allows a user to start up PowerPoint on the smartphone and give a full slide presentation to an auditorium-size audience. Delivering up to eight hours of operation per charge, the Redfly can even provide power to smartphones that charge via USB.

Redfly is compatible with selected Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC and Smartphone editions and Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional and Standard editions. Phones that run the Palm OS currently are not supported, but Celio confirms its Redfly Interface Software eventually will be available for other operating systems.

Though its operates completely different from the aborted Palm Foleo, one common question persists. The device is housed in a one-inch-thick clamshell case that measures about 6 x 9 inches. That means mobile workers will have to decide whether to carry this 2-lb. device, a full laptop computer, both -- or perhaps neither. Also, with entry-level laptops hovering in the $600 range, IT departments will have to ponder the viability of investing $500 in a Redfly device. It's unlikely though that any executive is using an entry-level laptop.

Redfly borrows from the Foleo but takes the idea in a different direction. The result, essentially, is a dumb terminal with intelligence, but storing no data or applications. The question for the channel is simply: Is the enterprise interested?

Story courtesy of ITChannelPlanet.



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