Palm launched the most radical new phone since the iPhone on Thursday here at CES. The company's new Pre smartphone, running its new webOS, puts people at the center of the smartphone experience and uses Web standards to extend the platform.
"This platform is going to be the basis for innovation at Palm for a decade to come," Palm chief executive Ed Colligan said.
The Pre and webOS are colorful, simple, and touch-centric – in a lot of ways, a lot like Apple's iPhone. The Pre is the most people-centric smartphone ever. The webOS consolidates your contacts from various locations, including Microsoft Exchange servers and Facebook, into a unified contact list. It automatically eliminates duplicate information, consolidates photos and lets you connect with people via any way you've got: texting, IM, e-mail, phone calls, or Facebook.
The people-centric view of information which Palm calls "synergy" carries into other applications as well. The Pre's calendar, for instance, can show information from multiple online calendars at the same time. If you're having an IM conversation with someone, you can switch into texting mode without leaving your window. That's not the only radical thing here, though. The webOS is based on the idea of "cards," which are like desktop windows. Any action you're doing can be reduced to a card on the screen, moved around or thrown away. It's easy to switch between, say, writing an email and checking your contacts, by flicking between reduced email and contact card screens.
"Cards are a completely new metaphor for managing multiple activities on mobile," said Palm's senior director of human interface and user experience Matias Duarte. "The webOS really gives you so much control and so much power with a UI that's almost invisible."
Searching seems to be a breeze on the Pre. The OS seems to automatically index everything on the phone, so as soon as you start typing the name of a person or thing it begins to search, dropping to search on the Web if it can't find anything on the device.
The webOS has many other attractive little touches. Alerts, like new messages, appear unobtrusively at the bottom of the screen. You can maximize them a little bit if you want to, say, pause music. Everything seems to rotate into landscape mode easily, thanks to an accelerometer in the phone. The Web browser uses thumbnails of pages as bookmarks, and the email program supports HTML and attachments. In Palm's demo, at least, everything ran very smoothly. The Pre is a sliding phone with a large 3.1-inch, 320x480 touch screen and full QWERTY keyboard below.
"Sometimes, those cheesy virtual keyboards just don't cut it," Colligan said, taking an irresistible jab at his number-one competitor, Apple.
The touch screen has a "gesture area" below the main screen where you can safely flick or twirl your fingers to manipulate content. And yes, the screen has iPhone-style multitouch, including pinching to zoom into Web pages.
The phone connects to the Internet using Sprint's EVDO Rev A network and 802.11b Wi-fi. It has GPS, stereo Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR, and 8 GB of built-in storage, though it appears to have no memory card slot. It's the first phone built on TI's fast new OMAP 3430 platform, Colligan said. On the back, there's a 3-megapixel camera with autofocus, an LED flash and unusual depth of field, according to Colligan. On top, there's a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack, a ringer switch and the power button. The volume buttons are on the side. The device weighs 4.8 ounces. (full Story)