Friday, January 9, 2009

Palm Finally Delivers A New OS...

...along with a shiny, new device on which it will run.

And they're calling it Palm webOS. It certainly looks cool and shiny enough to compete with the iPhone and Android. All I have to go on is what I'm seeing on the web but without having actually touched the thing (hey, this is the Internet, we don't need to know what we're talking about) here are my quick impressions. I love the sliding QWERTY keyboard. The lack of hardware buttons, not so much. It also has cool touchscreen gestures, sophisticated search capabilities, and a real web browser.

But what I'm really concerned about is backwards compatibility and migration. Palm has made no mention of whether or not webOS will be able to run older Palm applications or even if it will be able to import data from older Palm devices easily. In theory, it should be easy to import data between devices using .csv files. In practice, importing my Treo 680's contacts into my T-Mobile G1 by feeding a .csv file through Google Contacts turned out to be a huge pain. If webOS could do both these things, it would be a no-brainer for me. Without those things, it's just another of several competing platforms to me.

This is quite a change from the old days when nobody cared what OS their phone ran. Now we've got the iPhone vs. RIM Blackberry vs. Google Android and now Palm webOS. I began to realize this a few days ago when I powered off me T-Mobile G1 and turned it back on again and realized that I was actually rebooting my phone. Now this is no new thing for me. Every Treo I've ever owned used to crash all the time. But in that case rebooting—or rather resetting since that's what it's called in the mobile device world—was and is a massive annoyance. Google, to its credit has created an OS that is stable enough that it almost never crashes (my G1 has never crashed). Under these circumstances, the reset process becomes a rather painless way to perk up your phone when it's feeling sluggish. If nothing else, it's some form of progress.

Android and Palm webOS look to be fairly similar in many ways. They're both based on Linux, they both have powerful web browsers. Palm is apparently so confident in their web browser that they are developing their applications using a mixture of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. These are all web applications and it appears that Palm wants your phone to be a pocket-sized web browser.

The next few months should be interesting to say the least. Palm Pre running Palm webOS, which was formerly codenamed Nova, will be introduced on Sprint—possibly as late as June and Sprint will have an exclusive contract with Palm which will prevent the Pre from appearing on other carriers for months. Sprint is pretty bad in Chicago and I got a new two year contract with T-Mobile to get the G1, so I'm not going anywhere. Of course the most recent Palm device, the Treo Pro was released as an unlocked GSM phone. That would be perfect for use on T-Mobile but there's no way I've paying upwards of $500 for a phone. Of course I probably won't even have an opportunity to buy a GSM Pre for a good nine months and a lot can change in that time. Whether or not Palm forces me to eat my words, they've finally done something exciting. And as someone who has been using Palm devices for over a decade, I'm excited.

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