Palm booked a VIP suite at CES, guarded it with official looking beef boys, spared little expense on meeting canopies, food, alcohol, and ambiance for its selected guests (somehow I got in anyway), and set up some swanky demo stations where you could look at (but not touch) its latest mobile offering. Palm called it Pre, which I pronounced, mistakenly (though you can imagine why), "pray"; and its OS the Palm Web OS, known pre-announcement as Nova. Like the car.Here's our video.
If you want to read about the details, I take you over to mobile blogger extraordinaire, Eric Zeman, who was on hand at the press conference (stampedes scare me, so I stayed away) and also took a deeper look at the product. But we left the demos Palm showed us completely impressed. It seems well designed, comfortable, and simple. Software product manager and VP Pam Deziel frequently held and operated it with one hand.
The underlying OS was truly surprising. Maybe a little shocking, even. What Palm has created is an operating system that begins to hide itself from the functional uses of the device. In an interesting way, it doesn't seem as if you're interacting with software, but with messages and pictures and contacts. Start typing something -- not within an application, mind you, but just randomly on the slide-out keyboard -- and you're taken somewhere, like the Web or into a Google search, or a relevant place to take action.
It's a shame that despite phenomenal product execution the Pre will still face an uphill battle. Putting Palm's recent reputation hits aside, Sprint will be the Pre's exclusive carrier. Enough said. (Such strange, beleaguered bedfellows. OK, NOW enough said.)
But perhaps a bigger deal is developer support. Let's face it, Apple and BlackBerry are a long way down the road with developers and online stores from which to download applications. Developers also have Windows Mobile and Symbian to deal with, and looming in the background is Android. And now there's Palm's platform. Mobile developers will tell you that even if the underlying language is the same (like Java), the majority of the work is still in making the application work with the platform. Palm talks about the OS using open Web standards, but that may not be enough.