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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Palm Pre - the (i)Phone for the rest of us

Every once in a while, a device comes along that captures the public's attention. Last week, it was the Palm Pre. Amid all of the new-fangled devices introduced at CES in Las Vegas, the one that broke through the media clutter was the Palm Pre.

Already, tech pundits are calling it the device that will save Palm and its ailing namesake mobile platform. Of course, people still remember when the name "Palm" was synonymous with Star Trek-like personal digital assistants (PDAs) that made it easy to record contacts, appointments, notes, etc.

Now, the Palm Pre looks set to re-capture that legacy. Its webOS is supposed to make it easy for anyone with Web programming skills to design apps for it. Of course, that's what people also said about Apple's Widgets and Microsoft's Gadgets, and I've yet to see these apps from the average Web designer.

Nokia, too, is already pursuing this Web technology-based platform for mobile apps with its Web Runtime (WRT) platform (for S60-based phones). So perhaps such apps are nothing new to serious mobile app developers.

But just as it's not rudimentary to port a Windows program to the Mac, I expect that developing for Palm's webOS won't be trivial. What will make a difference, though, is if Palm is able to enforce that its webOS-based apps employ the familiar ease-of-use of long-time Palm apps.

The Palm platform has always had this quirky nature of being simple (or even simplistic) to use. Even as Microsoft churned out advanced versions of Windows Mobile and the Symbian platform matured and now with the iPhone and Google Android, the Palm generally remained the same.

Of course, critics will say that that's what held the Palm back as the smartphone market took off. (That and basically poor management at Palm.) On the other hand, I think that if Palm can make its Pre really easy for even grandparents to use, then it will totally change the smartphone landscape. It may even have the potential to make smartphones a mainstream platform, rather than reserved for the geeks.

Here's wishing the Palm Pre in making a dent in the (smartphone) universe!

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