When I heard that Palm was going to have a big announcement and this year’s CES, I wasn’t sure if we’d see the revolutionary and promising direction the company needed to stay relevant, or another misstep that would be lost in the noise and seal Palm’s fate for good. I have to be honest, I had my imaginary money on the latter. It wasn’t easy for me to take this stance though. The Handspring Visor Deluxe got me started in the world of PIM, and I didn’t move away from the PalmOS until 5 devices later. Unfortunately, the industry progressed and Palm didn’t.
The presentation had a pretty extensive demo of the system, mostly focused on PIM applications, the interfaces for application launching and task switching, and notification systems. I haven’t watched video yet, but the images look very rich and clean. Thankfully, the designers appear to have kept the simplicity and conciseness that I always cherished in the PalmOS. The system has an emphasis on connectivity. As you log into your different web accounts information is compiled into your PIM apps, and information from different sources are mingled together in the interface, but kept separately stored. This way someone’s AIM name from Facebook and e-mail address from Gmail come together in one Address Book card. This is beautiful, and is the type of thing I know many of us struggle with when using current sync systems. A lot of the PIM functionality really puts the iPhone’s systems to shame. (Forgive the over-used comparison, but it’s what I use right now, and whether it really should be or not the iPhone is the current benchmark for a consumer device) One area that was almost completely avoided was multimedia. A music player was shown briefly, but there was no mention of subscription service support, DRM support, music stores, or software syncing with the desktop. I didn’t see any mention at all for video capabilities, and gaming wasn’t even hinted at. I think this is a good move though, as Palm is sticking to what it’s good at with PIM software. I think that Palm is going to be pushing the device to the business market anyway. This may be the first step in a pretty serious market segmentation. Perhaps we’ll see Blackberry and Palm holding on to the business market (despite how much Apple would like to change this) and the iPhone will keep a firm hold on the consumer multimedia and gaming market (thanks to Apple’s focused efforts).
The first new device using the new system is the Palm Pre. It looks a bit like a swollen HTC Touch Dual with the kickstand slider mechanics of a Motorola Z8. The screen takes capacitance input (like most touch screen devices now) and extends the input area past the scree into the bezel below. This extends the library of possible gestures greatly since there’s the added context of a gesture being on-screen, off-screen, or in transition between the two. The unit has 8 gigs of built in memory and apparently lacks an expansion slot, a growing trend that I’m not a huge fan of. Though I do admit that managing files and applications between internal memory and expansion cards always seems to cause more confusion than benefit for the majority of casual users.
Personally, I’m excited about the charging “dock” (platform? pedestal?) that charges the Pre through wireless induction. The phone sticks to the dock with magnetism. I’ve been waiting for someone to bring this technology to market, and I think it’s one of those small touches that will really bring that sense of pleasure to the user every day when they place and remove the phone on the charger without dealing with cables, USB, or dock connectors.
I’m glad to see Palm putting a real effort in this resurgence. They needed to make an impact today, and my initial impression is that they’ve succeeded. I also think it’s important to view the Pre as the first device in this new era for Palm, and I’m looking forward to see what else they come out with to fill other markets.
For more official images and information, check out the Palm Pre product page.
[Update] Mobility Today has a post with videos from the presentation – Palm Pre Video @ Mobility Today