Pushed to the brink by the iPhone, BlackBerry and others, Palm made a dramatic bid Thursday to revive its sinking fortunes with the long-awaited release of its new mobile operating system along with the first phone to be powered by it.
"It's going to redefine the center of your access point to the Internet," said Palm CEO Ed Colligan of WebOS.
Building the new operating system was essential for Palm to keep competing in a market it pioneered through the Treo but lost with the rise of the iPhone from Apple and the BlackBerry from Research In Motion. Palm's new platform, several years in the making, allows it to keep pace with the iPhone and Google's Android, which were built from the ground up with the mobile Web in mind."Palm has brought the best of the iPhone's user interface elements forward and put it in the context of embracing multitasking and Web services," said Ross Rubin, an analyst with the NPD Group. "This differentiates Palm again and gives them a strong story to tell."
There are still plenty of questions surrounding the Pre and its release, which will happen sometime in the first half of the year on Sprint's network. The price of the phone has not been announced and it's unclear how much support Palm will get from developers, who are becoming essential to the success of a smart phone.
Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, said Palm will need to convince developers that they can make substantial money writing for its platform.
But, he said, that should be easier now that Palm has created a robust product that makes the company competitive again. "Palm did its homework and they've made an extremely solid smart phone," Bajarin said. "This puts Palm back in the game as a real player."
The Pre showcases the considerable work Palm has done both in hardware and software to get back in the game. The 3G device sports a 3.1-inch multi-touch screen and boasts Wi-Fi, GPS, an accelerometer, 8 MB of memory, a 3-megapixel camera and a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard.
The operating system is built around an interface that supports multitasking and the blending of information from multiple sources. For example, the contact list will include information from different e-mail programs and social networks and give users the ability to open an instant-message session. The calendar program also collects events from Outlook, Google and Facebook onto one screen.
The WebOS displays open applications and Web pages as cards in a deck, so users can have multiple applications running at one time and easily switch among them.
The OS also tries to predict what a user is looking for, offering program shortcuts as the user types.
"Sometimes if feels like it's thinking for you," said Jon Rubinstein, Palm's executive chairman.
The touch interface, with its reliance on swipes, flicks and pinches, will be familiar to iPhone users. But the Pre tries to extend the gesture language to more actions.
Palm's success will hinge on the performance of the new OS and phones built for it. The company, which recently received $100 million from investor Elevation Partners, posted its sixth straight quarterly loss last month and saw its quarterly smart phone revenue drop 39 percent from the year before.
The new Palm Pre is not for sale yet. For current cell phones and accessories visit www.tmiwireless.com