Palm Pre smartphone dumps legacy applications

New operating system will guide application development

The new Palm Pre, which runs on the new Web OS operating system, will not work with older applications supported on the Palm Treo and other smart phones, a Palm official confirmed.

"We're not emulating [applications from] the old Palm OS, but will allow third-party emulation," says Pam Deziel, vice president of product management, in an interview at the recent CES trade show in Las Vegas. "We're figuring on having developers do great applications."

The fact that existing applications, even games, found on older Palm products will not work with the Palm Pre without third-party involvement, shows how important the new Web OS for Palm is going to be. Palm says the Web OS is expected to guide its application and device development for the next decade.

While Palm observers and analysts had been eager for a new operating system from Palm for years, some were concerned that not supporting existing applications might be going too far. "I wasn't expecting this much," says Kris Keilhack, an associate editor for Palm Infocentre and a Treo and Palm device user for 13 years. "This is really the paradigm shift you hear about."

Deziel also says Palm will be setting up an online store similar to Apple's App Store for users to find applications for the Pre. The company also plans to make a software developer's kit generally available for building applications at some point close to the time of the public shipment of the phone, which will be before July.

The Palm Pre is slated to be available from US carrier Sprint in the first half of this year.

Deziel also offered more details about the phone's functions. The Web OS itself is based on Linux, with the software on top built in-house by Palm engineers, she says. Developers familiar with CSS, Java and HTML will be able to easily build applications for it, she says. The first version of the phone has applications developed by about two-dozen third-party developers, Deziel says.

In a 20-minute demonstration, Deziel showed some of the hand gestures that manipulate the touch screen. She explained that common tasks, such as calling up an email or a text field to contact a close worker or friend, will be accomplished with one touch, not several as required with some devices.

The touch screen on the Pre doesn't come with a virtual keyboard as the iPhone and other smart phones do, so users must rely instead on Pre's slide-out QWERTY keyboard. However, Deziel says a third-party developer could build a virtual keyboard application for users who wanted it.

During the demo, Deziel touched several icons on the screen to call up programs or functions. At one point, her touch didn't create a reaction, something that also showed up in another demonstration by a Palm employee. Deziel explained that some users might have a similar problem, since the screen reacts to the electrical impulse in the skin, not from pressure. This is because the Pre's screen is based on what's known as "capacitive touch technology," not the resistive touch technology found in older Palm devices, she says.

The Pre also uses a novel charging device that applies inductive technology via a round device shaped like a hockey puck, called the Palm Touchstone. Users place the phone on the Touchstone to charge it. The Touchstone, which will be sold separately, will require users to replace the back on the phone with a different back that includes magnets and circuits that allow the charge to occur, Deziel says. The inductive back has a different texture from the original, but weighs about the same.

Pricing has not been announced for the phone or the Touchstone.

There are several subtle but distinctive features in the Pre. One feature, for example, allows the user to be "gently" notified when being sent an instant message. When the message comes, it doesn't pop up on the centre of the screen, but scrolls up from the bottom in a less distracting way, she says.

The concept that Palm calls 'synergy' means the Pre will also act intelligently to perform various functions, including searches. In one example, Deziel showed how a user might want to find information on the Blue Man Group show in Las Vegas. She began typing the word "Blue" to get the information. As the first three letters "Blu' were typed a search began for contact information for a person named Bluth. But when the full name of the show had been inputted, the device automatically began searching for the show's web site, where tickets could be purchased wirelessly with a credit card number entered into the Pre.

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Tags Palm PreSpecial IDweb os

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