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CES: Is Palm's Pre the new iPhone?

By John Cox on Thu, 01/08/09 - 6:29pm.

Moribund Palm, which seemed on its way to being a Windows Mobile running dog with lackluster handhelds, seems to have scored with its introduction of the Palm Pre 3G smartphone, powered by a new operating system, dubbed webOS.

The device and software were unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas. (Check out our CES blog.)

Palm's new Pre, a 3G touchscreen smartphone
(blog continues below the image)

Palm's new 3G Pre smartphone

Several things seems to have struck the live bloggers and pundits watching the Pre (pronounced pree) live demonstration:

The Pre's big screen: 3.1 inches, with 320x480 pixels. That compares to the 3.5-inch iPhone screen, also at 320x480. Apple touts the 163 pixels per inch of the display; a Palm PR spokeswoman had no details of the Pre's ppi number.

Support for gestures: the lower part of the Pre's screen supports gestures, apparently similar to the iPhone's multi-touch screen -- you can move a finger over the screen to clear away an application or file, for example.

3G and Wi-Fi: all wireless, all the time.

Web integration: this is an area that needs more exploring. Palm created a new, Web-standards-based OS for the Pre, dubbed webOS. Developers can leverage existing skills in XHTML, Javascript and other standards to build Pre applications.

Palm has already started with this, using the Synergy synchronization framework to pull contact, calendar and other information from your online Web accounts and social networking sites to create and keep updated a unified "database" on the Pre. The idea seems to be: plug the Pre into the Web cloud, leveraging Web standards and interfaces to extend the individual user interface across multiple sites to link, integrate and synthesize multiple sources of Web data and Web services.

From what I can see, that's a step ahead of the iPhone, which has more narrowly focused this kind of integration around a proprietary, Apple-based service infrastructure. Even the Android OS, implemented in T-Mobile's G1 phone and more recently Kogan Technologies' Angora, though it has some elements of Palm's approach, emphasizes integrating with a single Web-based service platform -- Google -- versus what seems to be Palm's more expansive embrace of the Web.

Web browsing: Palm seems to have created a new, and much more effective Web browser that seems to rival the ease of use of Apple's Safari browser on iPhone.. But so far I've not been able to dig up information about that.

That lack of information, which people are clearly hungry for, is the biggest disappointment so far in Palm's announcement.

Apple's corporate ethos is "we're cool and you're not, use the product and bask in the coolness." Palm has the opportunity to crystallize a new corporate ethos more suited to the Web's democratic openness, and more importantly, to the Web's sense of that "Star Trek" adventurousness of boldly going where no man has gone before: just take the users along for the ride.

Palm Pre is due out by mid-2009 exclusively via Sprint, which has not yet release pricing for the phone.

Comparing specs

Palm Pre

Apple iPhone

Dimensions

3.9" x 2.3" x 0.67"

4.5" x 2.4" x 0.48"

Weight

4.76 oz

4.7 oz

Display

3.1-inch touch screen; 320x480 pixel HVGA; vertical, horizontal modes

3.5-inch multi-touch screen; 320x480 pixel, 163 pixels/inch; vertical, horizontal modes

Web browser

unknown

Apple Safari

Keyboard

slide out full QWERTY

virtual QWERTY display

Cellular

3G EVDO Rev A

UMTS/HSPDA and GSM/EDGE (multiple bands)

 

 

 

US mobile carriers

Sprint

AST&T

Wi-Fi

802.11b/g

802.11b/g

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 2.1, with EDR; And A2DP stereo support

Bluetooth 2.1, with EDR

Memory

8Gbytes; USB mass storage support

8 or 16Gybtes

GPS

Built-in

built-in

Digital Camera

3-megapixel, LED flash

2-megapixel

Operating System

Palm webOS

variant of Mac OS X

Price

currently, not disclosed by Sprint

via AT&T with 2-year contract: 8Mb model, $199; 16Mb model, $299

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