About 3 months ago the folks from Palm called to ask if they could come up to Oakland to tell us a bit about their new OS plans. Truth is, I was very skeptical. Regardless, we welcomed the visit and they came by to share the basic elements of their plans: an entirely new OS, an entirely new device, an entirely new way to think about developing mobile applications. I was intrigued, but remained skeptical. They invited us to come down to Palm the week before Thanksgiving to get our hands on an early version of the developer kit during a three day developer “camp.” We agreed to participate.
In late December Palm summoned us to their headquarters again, this time for the real show: the Palm pre hardware. While I may have walked into Palm a skeptic that day, I left a true believer. This is a very impressive phone. The first in my opinion to really give the iPhone a run for its money in terms of the software experience overall (there’s of course lots to like about the Blackberry products, but my opinion is that the BB applications are stronger than the OS experience that links them all together).
The phone is smooth like a well polished river stone. When closed it fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. It clicks open with a *snikt* that Wolverine would be proud of. When open the back reveals a reflective mirror like surface — a nice, elegant surprise. The hardware itself is well integrated with the OS. Gestures underneath the display are used to control basic navigation actions (for example, swipe right to left to go “back” anywhere in the UI). Start typing on the keyboard and the OS or current app will contextually respond with the appropriate action (start searching contacts in the contacts app, start entering a URL in the browser, do a system wide search when on the desktop, etc).
The hardware seems to address everything you might choose to poke at about the iPhone: higher quality camera, flash, keyboard, inductive charging, replaceable battery, etc. None of those details were ever a deal killer for me (and let me be very clear: I still love my iPhone) but certainly this phone is meant to capture every single user that is put off by one of Apple’s hardware choices.
You really need to see the OS in action to fully appreciate how good this phone is. While I’m not going to say that it beats the iPhone on every front (for example, on a purely aesthetic basis I think the iPhone wins) this is a very powerful OS with lots of clever touches throughout. The aggressive use of multitouch gestures — while perhaps introducing an ease-of-learning hurdle — leaves the UI devoid of space-stealing back buttons and the like. Your content really takes center stage. They’ve also done a great job with a feature they call “synergy” that aggregates your content and services together from various sources. For example your Exchange address book, Gmail address book, and Facebook friends are seemlessly integrated in the global Palm address book. The data is stored separately on the backend, but presented in a unified view on the frontend. The same is true of your calendars, email inboxes, and chat services.
Pandora for webOS is coming along nicely and we’re delighted to be part of their launch story. Pandora will be available on every Palm pre from day one of their launch on Sprint. Of course webOS is a multitasking OS so Pandora will continue to run in the background if you need to jump out and use another application on your phone. Very cool.
This has been a really fun process for us. We got to see something very cool a bit before the rest of the world. I’m incredibly impressed with everything that Palm has done so far and I can’t wait for them to get this out the door and into the hands of real customers. Congratulations Palm! Well done.
Update: Mobility today has pulled together a bunch of videos from the announcement that show off various aspects of the UI. Take a look.
Update 2: Palm has posted a Quicktime video of the entire launch event.