Palm - Don't Call it a Comeback

Palm Pre ComebackLet's be honest: who saw this coming? Palm's jaw-dropping debut of their innovative webOS and stunning Pre smartphone on Thursday finally stemmed the tide of gloomy questions about the company: did the PDA pioneer still have the talent to lead the mobile computing industry? Would the top-secret Nova become another vapourware Cobalt? Could they overcome an entrenched reputation in the community for trailing the pack? In short: Yes, no, and hell yes!

The tech world has been positively gushing in their praise of Palm's spectacular comeback effort, and the reaction from the denizens of the comments has been similarly favourable. But as pleased as we all are to learn that Palm still has the Right Stuff, there are plenty of unanswered questions about their beautiful new baby. Let's take a cold shower, quell the geek lust and analyse what we have – and haven't – been told...

Down to the Metal

The new Palm webOS is very exciting: a Linux-based operating system built from the ground up with mobility and the web in mind. Clearly, it's going to tick all the multi-boxes: multitasking, multitouch, multimedia. Plus, Ars Technica has tapped a developer source who's reportedly been working with the Mojo SDK for some time and describes the experience as "a joy". Quoth:

"The platform will allow developers to access most of the phone's capabilities, including calendaring, contacts, music and video playback. It would appear that Palm is very open to allowing developers nearly full access to the device's capabilities... According to our contact, the Mojo framework is extremely nice, well thought out, and significantly improves the speed and efficiency of developing mobile applications on the prė;;."

Palm Pre PhoneIt sounds all well and good, but questions remain about the capabilities of the HTML, CSS and Javascript languages to truly tap the potential of the webOS. PC Mag is reporting that developers "will not have access to the Linux core" – ominous news for anyone who was, say, hoping to see a more advanced media player that supports more than the built-in formats. However, Palm claim to have built all their own apps for the device with the same tools, which is hopefully a sign that this will not prove to be a major impediment to developers wringing every last drop out of the Prė;;'s beefy hardware. And speaking of which...

"I just cannae do it Cap'n! I don't have the power!"

It's packing every wireless connectivity option imaginable, running a suite of smart environmental sensors and has a beautiful big screen. Not to mention one of the most powerful processors yet seen in a smartphone. So when a Palm representative tells Palm Infocenter that "we're not talking about battery life", forgive us if warning bells don't start going DING-DING-DING-WOOP-WOOP-WOOP!

It could just be that with the webOS still very much a work-in-progress, Palm has not yet had the chance to optimise the power-management side of things. And it's an unfortunate reality that battery technology has not advanced to the point where we can get more with less: the market's demands for ever-thinner, ever-lighter devices mean batteries are the easiest things to skimp on. All these caveats aside, we'd love to see something a little more powerful than a 1200mAh battery crammed into the Pre – a 1500mAh unit like that seen in the recent Treo Pro would be nice and do much to quell our fears.

Palm Pre Side View

Matters of Multimedia

Palm have definitely upped the ante on sync, with their new cloud method seeing your PIM data always backed up and up-to-date. But nowhere at all have they mentioned media sync: how does one get their music, movies, photos and documents onto the device? With webOS having the ability to appear as a standard USB mass storage device, this means that it should be a simple matter to drag-and-drop files. Windows Media Player and Winamp both have the ability to sync with such generic USB devices, so those who use those apps will have little worries.

That said, it's a little disappointing that there was nothing more advanced on offer here: for instance, I'd love to be able to sync all that stuff over Wi-Fi without the need to connect a cable. Just place it on the Touchstone and away you go.

Palm Pre Multimedia

The music-playing application on display was also glossed over very quickly. (Editors note: Stay tuned for a PIC video on this soon) The access to playback controls via the notification area is an excellent idea, but without a greater understanding of its capabilities it's difficult to draw any conclusions about how it will compete with the excellent playback functions of its chief rival, the iPhone. It's also worth noting we didn't see any video playback ability at all: this is something we'll have to keep a close eye on. Such a powerful unit is simply begging for streaming video capabilities.

External storage has become extinct: the Pre is lacking even a micro-SD slot. This is a truly disappointing decision, especially in the light of the massive advances that have been and are continuing to be made in SD technology. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's definitely a heart-breaker.

And this one's a doozy: there's no video recording. For the life of me I can't think of a good reason why. With 8GB of storage on-board and the speedy OMAP processor, you'd think the hardware was more than capable – especially when it's been a standard feature on the "classic" Palm OS smartphones forever. Sure, the quality has always been a bit lacking, but it's still an undeniably cool perk to have a camcorder – even a dodgy one - in your pocket. Please explain, Palm.

Hang On, Isn't It a Phone?

Absent from Palm's live demonstration of the Pre were any solid details on how phone calls are handled. It could just be for the simple reason that they chose to focus on the more flashy features of the webOS in order to make a more spectacular debut – and Palm have a history of great call management UIs on the Treo and Centro – but it still leaves a question mark hanging over the issue. My own particular bugbear – without a "Hangup" key, how do you hangup a call when you're in another application? The assumption is that there'll be a gesture you can use, but it'd be nice to know for certain.

One thing we do know is that as of this stage, there's no voice-dial functionality at present – a curious omission from such an advanced device.

Palm Pre

Bankruptcy: Still Not Fun

Two years ago, when the iPhone first debuted, I wrote on this site how the initial minimum price point of $499 – with contract – was "exorbitant, no matter the feature set". The same is true of the Pre: one mustn't forget that in the end, this thing is still just a (really, really cool) phone and there's a certain point when it just doesn't make sense to splash out so much cash. While I doubt Palm are going to start out so high, it's still unlikely we're going to see the Pre for anything less than, say, $299 – with contract. God – and maybe Ed Colligan – knows how expensive the unlocked GSM model will prove to be.

The latest-and-greatest tech is always pricey, but Palm might want to consider trying to enter the upper-class smartphone market with as cheap a price point as possible, in order to make a big splash and get users hooked on the webOS platform. The second generation of devices can then become the must-have cash-cows. Of course, such a strategy is dependent on a strong balance sheet, and it could just be that Palm can't afford to sell the Pre for too cheap a price. It remains to be seen just how much people will be willing to fork out.

Legacy Loss

Palm Pre BackYou would have thought that Palm OS Garnet emulation would have been a no-brainer on the next generation of Palms, providing a direct upgrade path for the legions of Treo and Centro owners. Apparently, you'd be wrong: Palm have been cagey in their responses whenever the question has been put to them, suggesting indirectly that it would be up to third parties like StyleTap to provide Garnet emulation on webOS. This is a true shame, with so many useful PalmOS apps already out there rearing to go. Hopefully, there's still time to reverse the decision.

Despite their claims to the contrary, the new gesture-navigation method is also very much a massive break with the past from the Treo's superb one-handed navigation and instant-access hard buttons. It's eye-poppingly gorgeous and looks quite intuitive, but still leaves me unsure as to whether or not it'll be an equally functional method of interacting with the device. One-handed usage in particular may become more difficult, although the below-the-screen gesture area should alleviate matters somewhat.

Going to be a Long Wait

Overall, I'm incredibly enthusiastic about the prospects for both the Palm webOS and the Pre. After so many disappointments from Palm over the last few years, it's fantastic to finally see them once again living up to their heritage as mobile computing pioneers. The new gesture navigation and deck-of-cards application metaphor screams "BREAKTHROUGH!" for mobile multitasking, and the powerful, stylish hardware allows them to proudly strut their stuff against competitors like the iPhone and Blackberry Storm with gusto. Despite there still being a lot more to find out, one thing is certain:

Palm is back with a vengeance.

It'll be an interesting year!

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I saw video playback

mikecane @ 1/12/2009 3:41:17 PM # Q
>>>It's also worth noting we didn't see any video playback ability at all: this is something we'll have to keep a close eye on.

I think it was the long video over at MyTreo. There were clearly two videos on the Pre, once of which was played. Less than 30 seconds long, IIRC.

I know what you lot are salivating over: frikkin SlingPlayer.


RE: I saw video playback
SeldomVisitor @ 1/12/2009 4:01:46 PM # Q
Video recording is what's missing, not playback.

RE: I saw video playback
mikecane @ 1/12/2009 4:10:15 PM # Q
Read what I quoted.

RE: I saw video playback
SeldomVisitor @ 1/12/2009 4:13:39 PM # Q
What do I care what you quoted?

Your entire post of meaningless wordiness was replaced by my succinct to-the-point one.

RE: I saw video playback
mikecane @ 1/12/2009 4:24:23 PM # Q
Which, as usual, had nothing to do with the *effing point*.

RE: I saw video playback
Gekko @ 1/12/2009 4:26:45 PM # Q

MikeCon was addressing the video playback comment.

RE: I saw video playback
SeldomVisitor @ 1/12/2009 4:31:50 PM # Q
And I was addressing his uselessly wordy post with my succinct one.


[an old professor of mine use to complain about my advisor's HUGE piles of Tech Reports (produced by our lab) that he had to sign off on by calling it "diarrhea of the pen"...this still fits to this day with some, huh?]

RE: I saw video playback
Ryan @ 1/12/2009 5:33:31 PM # Q
I have a video of video playback and the music app in action on the way shortly...
RE: I saw video playback
SeldomVisitor @ 1/12/2009 5:49:44 PM # Q
Yeah, but do you have a video of video recording?

RE: I saw video playback
mikecane @ 1/12/2009 5:51:47 PM # Q
SV, you are really becoming an annoying pain in the ass.

RE: I saw video playback
LiveFaith @ 1/13/2009 4:41:57 AM # Q
Sticks and stones now Michael.

Pat Horne
RE: I saw video playback
robitaille88 @ 1/13/2009 8:47:29 AM # Q
Oh, in one of the demos on engadget or giznmodo or TreoCentral (I forget which), a Palm rep said MMS and video capture aren't implemented yet but will probably be there for the final release

RE: I saw video playback
hkklife @ 1/13/2009 9:10:54 AM # Q
Wow! I hope that is the case for video capture and not just smoke 'n mirrors and false promises.

Now, I was told by a Palm rep at CES that MMS was functioning and was already a part of the Pre. In fact I've been under this assumption since last Thursday. Has this been stated otherwise elsewhere? I mean, the Palm reps were touting it as a big advantage in that regard for messaging over the iPhone (MMS support + native IM client).

Pilot 1000->Pilot 5000->PalmPilot Pro->IIIe->Vx->m505->T|T->T|T2->T|C->T|T3->T|T5->Zodiac 2->TX->Verizon Treo 700P->Verizon Treo 755p->?

RE: I saw video playback
robitaille88 @ 1/13/2009 12:41:13 PM # Q

at 17:18

Question: "Does it support MMS?"

Response: "We will support MMS."

That, at least to me, says they don't have it ready yet but will be ready for launch.

RE: I saw video playback
SeldomVisitor @ 1/13/2009 12:51:22 PM # Q
That says nothing about "at launch".

RE: I saw video playback
robitaille88 @ 1/13/2009 2:14:15 PM # Q
True, though it does show it's not ready yet, but will be at some point. I just guessed at launch because it's one of their advertised features and on the Pre's official webpage as well.

Reply to this comment

I wouldn't call it a comeback either.

Storkdude @ 1/12/2009 3:50:49 PM # Q
It is as if a new company made this phone. What about it is Palm other than the name? Do you think Palm will devote any resources to PalmOS device? They have been on the back burner since Palm's first WinMob device. Palm as we know it suffered a mortal wound last week and is curently on life support for organ harvesting. Pre and WebOS are other animals and not at all related to Palm.

We can say with certainty now that this is absolutely the beginning of the end of Palm (Palm OS). Not even Palm cares about PDAs and now what pitiful support and development they had for Garnet is being halted.

So sad. I can soon put my Palm devices in the box with an old Newton.

RE: I wouldn't call it a comeback either.
Ranakanth @ 1/13/2009 7:45:40 AM # Q
Since Palm no longer owns PalmOS, it doesn't makes sense to keep developing devices based on that platform. A few years back when Palm split into PalmOne and PalmSource, then Access bought PalmSource, Access acquired the the rights to PalmOS (hence why "Access Powered" started appearing on Treos, for example).

So the situation is a lose-lose for PalmOS: Palm no longer owns PalmOS, and any future development of PalmOS is dependent on Access (who hasn't had any luck selling their "ALP" OS, to my knowledge), not Palm.

To me, it's somewhat nostalgic to see essentially the end of PalmOS, but it was long coming after all the debacles with Palm over the last few years. Garnet is well past retirement age, and Palm needs a fresh start with something that looks as new, potentially revolutionary, and WebOS.

Besides, unless Palm outright says "no" to Styletap (which I doubt, since Palm is not Apple), I'll be shocked if there isn't a PalmOS emulator available for WebOS within 6 months to a year of the Pre's launch.

RE: I wouldn't call it a comeback either.
joad @ 1/14/2009 11:23:15 AM # Q
Palm owns the rights to use Garnet forever. Not sure if that excludes via emulators, but hopefully they weren't stupid enough to do that.

Fact it, many of the people that have stuck with Palm through the years is BECAUSE of the OS. It CERTAINLY wasn't their quality control and customer support! We have hundreds of dollars in licenses based on Palm's being around, and to suddenly make them all inaccessible if we buy this phone is ridiculously short sighted. How many commercial and proprietary apps have been developed for PalmOS over the past 13 years? How many of those apps will have been updated to "WebOS" by the time the Pre is released? How many will have been fixed a year from then?

No harm in developing a "next generation" OS, but releasing it without providing a secure path to accessing 13 years of previously created applications for your platform seems spiteful and lazy.

Maybe it's a scam by Palm to make the TX much more valuable once the Pre is released. Of all the companies that Palm has foolishly swallowed up, it's surprising nobody thought of buying StyleTap....

Reply to this comment

Well, THIS is different!

mikecane @ 1/12/2009 3:53:05 PM # Q
Coming here to PIC to actually talk about something Palm has DONE just about RIGHT!

This is just so ... weird!

Reply to this comment

Still a pretty positive response

justauser @ 1/12/2009 3:55:37 PM # Q
Nice article Tim. Still, I've seen a lot of Palm related announcements on this site (from Palm IIIc, Handspring, m505 to the CLIΙ-of-the-month devices). I can't remember any announcement being as well executed and as positively received by all as the Pre has been

RE: Still a pretty positive response
freakout @ 1/13/2009 3:50:11 AM # Q
Thankyou. Me neither. I reckon it's 'cause they've starved us of good news like this for so long. And hey, everyone loves an underdog!
Tim - phone seems to be working in this video
justauser @ 1/13/2009 4:04:57 AM # Q

At about 1min and 2min mark the user dismisses an incoming call. Looks more responsive than my Treo680 when I hit hangup.

More importantly, seems an incoming call does not disturb the active application in any way.

Also - note the camera application. Very slick

RE: Still a pretty positive response
freakout @ 1/13/2009 4:50:28 AM # Q
That is slick. Love the way the preview glides away afer a second.

Also, I just realised that when you're on a phone call it's probably going to appear in that notification area down the bottom, so you can switch back to the phone with one hit.

RE: Still a pretty positive response
mikecane @ 1/13/2009 6:16:19 AM # Q
Did anyone try calling that number?

I also wonder if an incoming call with mute MP3 and video audio?

And the iPhone's included earphones come with a switch to answer an incoming call. The Pre?

Hmmm... incoming call from BLOCKED number?!

Ring tones?
freakout @ 1/13/2009 12:56:12 PM # Q
I also wonder if an incoming call with mute MP3 and video audio?

Speaking of mp3, I wonder if you'll be able to install your own custom ringtones on the Pre and assign seperate tones to contacts. My sister's iPhone-toting boyfriend was complaining on Sunday about how he couldn't do the latter.

Reply to this comment

What do YOU need to buy a Pre?

mikecane @ 1/12/2009 4:09:16 PM # Q
I need these (NOT in priority order, just typing off the top of my fingers) -

1) A word processor (dear god, NOT Documents To Go!!!)
2) A blogging program (WordPress and Blogger)
3) Ability to use external Bluetooth keyboard - ANY BT keyboard
4) Photo editing program (basically crop & resize)
5) My PIM data from LifeDrive
6) Twitter client
7) Ability to play Flash* (YouTube, Veoh)
8) eBook program that can do *ePub* (hello, Stanza, please port!)

*(yes, iPhone doesn't have that - but iPhone can at least *access some* of YouTube!)

What about you?

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
Gekko @ 1/12/2009 4:16:06 PM # Q

i don't think this Pre is the device for a so-called "writer". i think you should just get a little netbook and be done with it.

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
Tuckermaclain @ 1/12/2009 4:21:50 PM # Q
I need a program like Agendus (hold the bugs).
I need Skyscape to make it's software Precompatable
I need Tarascon to be Precompatable.

OR I could use a decent emulator that uses all the screen's resolution. That alone would make me stand in line at Best Buy.

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
mikecane @ 1/12/2009 4:28:23 PM # Q
"Precompatable" - that is sooooo unintentionally funny!!

Gekko, shut up! Think of my wanting WP and a BT KB as the ability to write looooong SMS, okay?

So, Gekko, after yelling at all of us pre-Pre to "Join the 21st century," it seems YOU want to stay in the 20th with your toy Centro. Tch, tch.

Now the rest of you list what YOU need so this thread gets back on track.

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
Gekko @ 1/12/2009 4:38:56 PM # Q

i like what i've seen so far. i just need local PIM sync. i don't want to f**k with no cloud. no yet anyway. i'd prefer local Palm Desktop but i could live with local Outlook. i just don't want to have to f**k with web GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc. or have to set up my own f*****g exchange server.

otherwise, they'll have to pry my toy centro from my cold, dead hand!!!

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
mikecane @ 1/12/2009 4:52:30 PM # Q
What if Palm does what Apple has: its own version of MobileMe? Would that make you feel better?

Hey, I don't like The Cloud either!

Now what about apps, dammit?

Let's get some lists going here!

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
QDeath @ 1/12/2009 5:00:28 PM # Q

Palm Vx -> Palm m515 -> Tungsten T3 -> Verizon Treo 650 -> Sprint Treo Centro
RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
Gekko @ 1/12/2009 5:01:21 PM # Q

i say that 99.9% of 3rd party Apps that don't already ship with the device are not really necessary and are mere fluff. for everything else, you can use Docs To Go to do 99.9% of all extraneous tasks. the shipped apps ought to be good enough for anybody.

disagree? give me an example of a critical app not shipped with the device whose critical function can't be replicated with a shipped app.

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
AdamaDBrown @ 1/12/2009 5:23:25 PM # Q

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
Gekko @ 1/12/2009 6:08:39 PM # Q

a. not really a critical app.
b. Sprint TV and video player with 8GB already included.

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
twrock @ 1/12/2009 6:12:35 PM # Q
otherwise, they'll have to pry my toy centro from my cold, dead hand!!!

The irony of that statement coming from you is amazing.

"twrock is infamous around these parts"
(from my profile over at Brighthand due to my negative 62 rep points rating)
RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
mikecane @ 1/12/2009 6:18:55 PM # Q
And where's YOUR list, twrock?

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
Piero @ 1/12/2009 6:34:48 PM # Q
1. Garnet compatibility
2. A word processor/ powerpoint compatible with MS Office
3. Ebook reader
4. External Storage (preferably SDHC)

If all else fails: a decent garnet emu would do

RE: What do YOU need to buy a Pre?
AdamaDBrown @ 1/12/2009 7:00:14 PM # Q
Gekko, you can claim that anything is "not a critical app" right up to phone functionality.

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