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Palm Pre Announced And Sized Up

Palm Pre Web OS announced

Sometimes, a Hail Mary pass works.

Palm once ruled the mobile digital roost during the era of the PDA, and remained there for a long time, even in the early days of the smart phone with their Treo devices. Part of the popularity had to do with the “Zen of Palm”, which is a philosophy for user friendliness which the company has held onto since day one.

Over the past 3 years or so, they fell off that perch, first with corporate customers when their aging OS couldn’t keep up with multi-tasking demands, then later with consumers, even before the iPhone expanded the idea of a smart phone from a geek & business user market into the consumer realm. That combined with an every shuffling corporate structure defocused the company leading to a continuous bleed off of customers.

Today Palm announced their new Palm web OS, along with the first phone to run it, the Palm Pre. Off the top, hardware wise it’s hard to get an idea of the size of the device without a comparison shot, so I’ve comped together some devices, based on screen size, to illustrate…

Palm Pre iPhone HTC Diamond Touch size comparison

(click image for larger version)

On the hardware front, the Pre is a very slick device. The form factor looks very much like an HTC Touch but with a portrait slide out QWERTY keypad, about the size of a Centros. The 320 x 480 screen is 3.1″, which strikes me as the perfect balance between the slightly small average WM screen (2.8″) and the slightly too big for 1 handed use iPhone screen (3.5″).

It includes an accelerometer and built in GPS, as well as WiFi, Bluetooth stereo, camera and all the other bullet points expected in a modern smart phone.

The screen is multi-touch, and the touching actually extends below the waist (er I mean screen), much like the HTC Diamond, so the user can perform gestures without actually blocking their view of the data. For example, the user can hold one finger in the “gesture area” and use a second to copy text, and pop up an edit box that will allow copying, pasting etc. The physical keyboard will also boast some additional navigation abilities, and merely typing something out on it will perform a Spotlight like search of contacts, files, events etc.

Online videos and reports can’t trump a real hands on, but it appears Palm took the best parts from all the current smart phone OSes out there, gave this mash up the “Zen Of Palm” treatment and made something that WILL occupy what they call the “fat middle” between corporate and consumer smartphone needs/wants.

The Palm Pre will be able to draw from OTA Exchange as well as web and consumer based contact and calendar lists, without the need to do any kind of voodoo to amalgamate this stuff. As anyone who has looked for some kind of truly easy solution can tell you, Palm’s implementation of NOT unifying the source data, but presenting it as such, presuming it works as advertised.

The Pre is due out in the first half of this year on Sprint in the US, which suggests that either Telus or Bell will be the first Canadian carrier to get it.

From what I’ve seen of the CES presentation, this is the “Zen Of Palm” long time Palm users have been waiting for. Apparently I’m not the only one, as the company saw a 35% spike in stock prices.

EDIT: check out this Youtube link for footage from the Palm CES 2009 Keynote in 5 parts via Part 2 is where the OS use really starts (watch in high quality).

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  • RebelScum

    It truly is a super-slick device. Interesting that it’s a TI chip inside…has Palm always used TI?

    I was happy to see the use of a pinch-zoom feature, but very disappointed in the lack of Flash and YouTube support. Flash I understand seems to be forever in the works, but leaving out YouTube seems weird.

    Apparently, though, the Palm Web OS is very easy to write for, so I would imagine we’ll see apps sooner than later that will resolve that issue.

    • Doug Groves

      LOL @ pinch-zoom. You know my opinion on pinch zoom is less positive than yours (at least in the web browser).

      I’m happy to report that beyond pinch zoom, the browser also supports tap-zoom, with auto-column formatting, so users get the best of both worlds.

      • RebelScum

        ~the browser also supports tap-zoom, **with auto-column formatting**, ~

        THAT is good news.

        Yeah, I noes you don;t care for the Pinch thing because you can’t operate it 1-handed. While I grant that’s a limitation, I still so love it πŸ™‚

        • Doug Groves

          I LOVES me some auto-column formatting.

          Forget having the web at your fingertips. It puts the web at your thumb tip, while your other hand is drinking, smoking or otherwise having a grand old time. πŸ™‚

  • Laroquod

    Hey how does this phone compare to the iphone?

    Sorry, just had to do it…. 8)

    • Doug Groves

      To start, they both make phone calls. πŸ™‚

      • RebelScum

        They don’t compare, man; it’s like comparing Apples and Brown Bags Full of Dogshit ;P

        *kisses and fondles iPhone lovingly…you’ll never leave me, will you iPhone…what’s that? You wanna go downtown?……*

  • Doug Groves

    When it comes to Flash/YouTube support, there’s still anywhere up to 6 months until it’s released, and Ed Colligan has said that they’re still adding and tweaking.

    As for the processor, no. Palm’s been using XScale procs for a while now on most of their devices. Years ago, they were Motorola Dragonball processors, but when Palm went to OS 4 (I think) they switched over to XScale. I can’t remember what the Clies used.

    I gotta say that so far I’m impressed. Small but robust.

    I’d even be happy with an onscreen keyboard version to help thin it out a bit. I find those little keys only marginally better than an onscreen keyboard like the iPhone or Diamond QWERTY.

    • RebelScum

      The OSKB is something you get used to very quickly, and I now prefer it to the tiny plastic thumbnail-seeking keys of the BB Bold or Curve. The Kbd on the Touch Pro, LG Voyager, or even the LG Rumour (not a smartphone but has a kickass slide-out keyboard) is more like it. TBH, as much as I share your enthusiasm for this device, I’m a *little* irked it’s a portrait slider. Anyone with hands any larger than those of a 16-year-old girl will likely wish is was landscape layout. But that’s a minor quibble, really.

      • Doug Groves

        When it comes to keyboards, everyone has their favourite type, or should I say “least hated” because let’s face it, none of the available input methods are optimal.

        Landscape sliders are the way to go if you do serious replies, because nothing is faster, but they also add the most bulk to the device. On screen are the slowest, and portrait (a la Treo & BB) are somewhere in between.

        It’s worth pointing out that if this thing floats Palm’s financial boat, they’ll probably consider other form factors.

        Actually i take that back. How long ago was it I first mentioned that I’d love to see a Palm TX with a phone in it? πŸ™‚

        • RebelScum

          How to they add the most bulk? As far as I can tell, in THIS case, the Pre would gain no extra hardware if they’d just have the case split horizontally rather than vertically.

          I’ve gotten to be pretty nimble with my on-screen kbrd…I guess all it takes is practice on any device. I know people with the Bold who are like lightning, and I just hate it; so slow and “clicky”.

        • RebelScum

          …all that said, this Pre’s kbd actually looks pretty good for a portrait slider

        • Doug Groves

          A larger physical keyboard means occupying more physical space. It’s pretty straight forward. πŸ™‚

          Given the Pre’s width, it would probably be pretty easy for anyone used to 1 thumb typing on screen (which is what I do) to adapt quickly.

        • RebelScum

          Ahhh, you’re talking about dimensions in-hand. I’m talking about overall specs.

        • Doug Groves

          Of course I’m talking about ‘dimensions in-hand’. It’s the only spec that needs to change, because a landscape slider would be 3 times the size, and have larger keys.

          They would have to make room for all that somewhere in the overall size (usually by making it thicker).

          Have you ever opened even a simple cell phone? Everything is densely packed and meticulously engineered.

  • Laroquod

    What do you mean by ‘gesture area’? Is there a specific touch area that is separate from or smaller than the actual screen?

    • Doug Groves

      No. The touch sensitive area actually extends below the screen, to where the track ball is. The same thing with the Diamond, it’s actually a multi-touch area, even though there are also pressable keys.

      Alex can tell you more about how the Diamond does it.

      • Laroquod

        Okay but from what you just said it sounds like the answer is actually ‘yes’. Perhaps I didn’t frame the question clearly.

        • Doug Groves

          The actual touch surface is actually larger than the screen, by extending below, so…

          No, it’s not separate, but

          Yes, the portion of the face that is touchable without pixels behind it is smaller than the portion of the face that is touchable WITH pixels, but the overall multi-touch surface is larger than than the 320×480 screen. πŸ™‚

          I guess it’s all in the framing. πŸ™‚

  • drsquid

    the plastic area below the screen (which has no buttons on the pre) is a capacitive multi-touch area divided into 4 ‘buttons/areas’ on the diamond – since the pre is made by HTC is is using the same tech – in many ways the pre looks like a rounded edge diamond with a slide out portrait keyboard – however I am not sure if the touch screen is capacitive

    • Laroquod

      Quote from another article: “Contacts scroll back and forth with iPhone-like gestures. There’s also a β€œgesture area” that sits below the screen, so you can manipulate data, photos, etc., without touching screen. So far: This is an iPhone with an extra gesture area.”

      My question: do you HAVE to use the special set-apart ‘gesture area’ to manipulate data and photos, or is it just optional? i.e. can I manipulated the photos and data directly like on the iPhone. I hope and assume so cause if not that would be kinda lame.

      • Doug Groves

        As far as the ‘extra area’ it’s an extension of the screen according to engadget.

        I’m guessing from the above quote “…so you CAN manipulate…” that it’s another option, not your only choice. πŸ™‚

        • Laroquod

          Is that how it works on the HTC?

        • Doug Groves

          The difference between the Pre and the Diamond is that the Pre is (supposedly) a seamless capacitive surface that extends below the screen.

          The display on the Diamond is old-school resistive, with the area below the screen a separate capacitive surface.

  • Laroquod

    The biggest unknown is price, which went unmentioned during the demo. My assumption is that Palm (PALM) would try to take market share by coming in significantly lower than the $200 or so Apple wants for its iPhone. But when I ran that theory by Palm CEO Ed Colligan, he looked at me liked I’d peed on his rug. β€œWhy would we do that when we have a significantly better product,” he asked, then walked away.

    Wow. Colligan is kind of an idiot, isn’t he?

    • Doug Groves

      It’s pretty stupid (or ballsy depending on your POV) to say “We’re better”, but the smart phone market has and continues to support phones that cost the same (or more) than the iPhone. If it didn’t HTC would have been out of business years ago. πŸ™‚

      I think Palm will drastically increase it’s own market share once this phone gets out there, even at $300. Gauging the price against the iPhone is taking a narrow look at the market.

      • Laroquod

        Well however they price it Golligan takes a pretty narrow look at the price-conscious reporter and consumer, dudn’t he? It was just an idiotic way to handle a reporter. Affordable!? WHY would we do that!?! Duh.

      • Laroquod

        Just look at the headline he got out of it.

        • Doug Groves

          True that, but I haven’t seen ANY positive headlines re: Palm from All Things D even before this… check the quote.

          “But when I ran that theory by Palm CEO Ed Colligan, he looked at me liked I’d peed on his rug.”

          Maybe that’s because they HAVE been peeing on his rug for a while (sometimes rightly so, as with the Foleo fiasco) but there’s really no love lost between the two parties.


  • Laroquod

    P.S. HTML + Javascript as an SDK is pretty poor.

  • Laroquod

    Apple’s initial ‘SDK-lite’ when the iPhone was first released was HTML + Javascript and there were a huge number of complaints and disses about that including from me (Everybody said it was totally insulting to developers – ‘Let them eat browser apps’, etc.) Mind you, it sounds like the Palm Pre apps will be able to run locally without the web connection so it’s not *entirely* the same thing, but the required web connection was definitely not the only criticism about Apple trying to go this route, either.

    The fact is that Palm is not really giving developers access to the guts of the system; they are just giving them access to the browser. Also, I am fairly sure Palm is not writing their own native apps in HTML + javascript (otherwise they would never be able to boast as they do 4 times faster than the iPhone which is very impressive). So that makes all 3rd party developers second class citizens in terms of performance.

    And then there’s the fact that programming a single-user application with HTML + javascript is just unnecessarily a fucking pain in the ass because Javascript sucks eggs as a standalone choice for app development and everybody knows it. For one thing, it isn’t designed to be a fully compilable language; it’s structured around the idea of being an interpreted language and browsers have applied just-in-time compiling to kind of assist the speed of repeated actions but that is never going to be as a fast as ground-up compilable language like C++.

    I really hope that like with the iPhone this is a temporary situation and lasts only a few months until they have prepared a REAL MAN’s sdk. 8)

    • Doug Groves

      I agree that it’s a weak sauce SDK, and would be surprised if they DIDN’T eventually release a real SDK in the future. I’d guess that there’ll be a real SDK released (or at least announced) sometime around or just after the phone ships.

      In its heyday, the Palm ecosystem thrived on letting people do what the hell they want when it comes to making apps. One thing I hope they DIDN’T take away from the iPhone model is the level of top down app distribution. If they’re gonna do a store, they should take a minimal cut, and not make the store the sole method of so-called legitimate distribution.

      I think the best OVERALL model IS to have an “App Store”, but have a tag for for apps that are stable and don’t pull any stunts under the hood, which could be called “certified” or something like that, and apps or hacks that are more likely to give you problems because they’re beta, or

      The only way you can have a truly central playground for apps IMHO is if everyone is welcome, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that there might be some shards of broken glass in this part of the sandbox.

      • RebelScum

        ~If they’re gonna do a store, they should take a minimal cut, and not make the store the sole method of so-called legitimate distribution.~

        I’ve been saying that about the iTunes App Store since before I got my 3G last year, so you know I agree. IMHO, any app store is a “nice to have” feature and should remain so.

        An open platform with a built-in installer for 3rd party apps would be a welcome thing. I have no trouble installing at my own risk πŸ™‚

        • Doug Groves

          Yeah, the current Palm OS and WinMo have that D(istribute)IY mentality, including downloading and installing directly to the phone.

          What Apple brought to the table was the central repository, but along with it the unfortunate baggage of having final say as to what devs and end users can do.

          When MS launches its “Sky Market” and Palm its thing, I hope it’s not at the expense of the previous distribution methods, but an enhancement.

    • drsquid

      well it is actually running Linux – and the OS is not final – so the html java option is probably for coding seperate widgets and not style apps – but since Web OS is new and will evolve I am sure they will be a ‘real’ SDK available for the big boys to play with to make native apps and games – and there is going to be an App store and OTA audio (videa?) downloads through amazon

      • Doug Groves

        They’re working with Amazon for OTA media buying? Hmmm… wonder what that will hold outside the US…

  • drsquid

    we keep arguing back and forth about SDK, size, capacitive, touch etc etc

    when to me the real talking point should be the synergy features of the OS, the multitasking, the integration between the apps on the phone, the way that task are handled etc….all these features are the revolutionary aspects of the Pre – that no other device have

    • RebelScum

      ^^^agreed. Some of the intuitive UI features are just superb. The gesture that brings up the “dock” apps in that ribbon is pure genius.

      I know nothing about coding, and know almost nothing about Java other than it’s old tech, so I can’t really speak to that. From a consumer’s perspective, though, I’m intrigued.

      I wonder how they’ll handle getting media files on and of the device. Does anyone think they’ll come up with some kind of GUI (like a desktop media player), or will they stick with simple drag & drop?

      Will the Magnetic charger do away with wires altogether and handle all file transfers thru Bluetooth or Wifi?

      On the subject…the wireless charger is almost as sexy as Angelina in “Gia”.

      • Doug Groves

        I’d guess that wireless media transfer is possible, but the Pre also has a USB 2.0 port for fast data, which once you start syncing movies would be the preferred route of many (but not all).

        As for media, it supports mp4 including H264, but I haven’t seen a lot of details on exactly all the formats. Media management wasn’t really covered either. Not sure how it would handle on a Mac, but on Windows you can use WMP to sync media to a device. I’d be surprised if it DIDN’T handle that.

        I think Palm needed to focus on the UI and the data management to assure the enterprise users that Synergy is going to make things much easier for them. Palm used to be huge in that segment.

        That segment has longer ‘lead times’ when making corporate purchasing decisions as well, so I can understand from a business POV wanting to assure them that something new is coming.

        This is different than the consumer market, which is happy to praise and/or pillorize, speculate & spread rumours, all with scant information. πŸ™‚

    • Doug Groves

      Oh I agree on what makes Synergy cool.

      Having all your contacts and calendars from multiple sources presented as a unified whole (supposedly it will recognize the same per, whether it’s from Outlook, GMail, GCal, Facebook etc is a REALLY awesome feature.

      It obviates the need for any kind of desktop contact/calendar management, something that people who use multiple sources have to deal with, or live with a less than complete solution.

      I love the idea that when I open the contacts, it will know that Alex in my Outlook is the same Alex I have in Facebook, and present the multiple ways I can contact, and that it presents GCal & Outlook (and Facebook? I’m not sure) etc events in one display, and any communication/manipulation done on the phone automatically goes to the right place.

      No one is doing that properly right now. This is a real perk to the enterprise world too, because right now there are plenty of people using a BB or WinMo device for work, but having to use a second device for personal stuff because of the ‘back end’ problem.

      If Synergy performs as advertised, or comes even close, that alone is what the internets would call an EPIC WIN.

    • Laroquod

      “when to me the real talking point should be the synergy features of the OS, the multitasking”

      Erm … ‘talking point’? Unfortunate choice of words there, you make it sound as if we need toe some kind of line or something or like you are some political party apparatchik. Why can’t we just all talk about what we talk about? If you don’t like it, talk about something else. But there are no talking *points*.

  • Doug Groves

    PS: added a Youtube link to the keynote on the bottom of the post, with the OS in action.

  • drsquid
    • Doug Groves

      I still think they need to release a full binary SDK (and according to an engadget report they possibly will after the phone comes out).

      At the same time devs will be able to get at just about every function of the phone through the Mojo framework. How that pans out in the real world remains to be seen.

      Once it hits the US, I’ll be following the reviews. I really want to try the Pre.