"We're not emulating [applications from] the old Palm OS, but will allow third-party emulation," said Pam Deziel, vice president of product management, in an interview Friday at the International CES trade show. "We're figuring on having developers do great applications."
The fact that existing applications, even games, found on older Palm products will not work with the Palm Pre without third-party involvement shows how important the new Web OS for Palm is going to be. Palm has said the Web OS is expected to guide its application and device development for the next decade.
While Palm observers and analysts had been eager for a new operating system from Palm for years, some were concerned that not supporting existing applications might be going too far. "I wasn't expecting this much," said Kris Keilhack, an associate editor for Palm Infocenter and a Treo and Palm device user for 13 years. "This is really the paradigm shift you hear about."
Deziel also said Palm will be setting up an online store similar to Apple Inc.'s App Store for users to find applications for the Pre. The company also plans to make generally available a software developer's kit for building applications at some point "close" to the time of the public shipment of the phone, which will be before July.
The Palm Pre is slated to be available from Sprint in the first half of this year.
Deziel also offered more details about the phone's functions. The Web OS itself is based on Linux, with the software on top built in-house by Palm engineers, she said. Developers familiar with CSS, Java and HTML will be able to easily build applications for it, she said. The first version of the phone has applications developed by about two-dozen third-party developers, Deziel said.
In a 20-minute demonstration, Deziel showed some of the hand gestures that manipulate the touch screen. She explained that common tasks, such as calling up an e-mail or a text field to contact a close worker or friend, will be accomplished with one touch, not several as required with some devices.
The touch screen on the Pre doesn't come with a virtual keyboard as the iPhone and other smart phones do, so users must rely instead on Pre's slide-out QWERTY keyboard. However, Deziel said a third-party developer could build a virtual keyboard application for users who wanted it.
During the demo, Deziel touched several icons on the screen to call up programs or functions. At one point, her touch didn't create a reaction, something that also showed up in another demonstration by a Palm employee. Deziel explained that some users might have a similar problem, since the screen reacts to the electrical impulse in the skin, not from pressure. This is because the Pre's screen is based on what's known as "capacitive touch technology," not the resistive touch technology found in older Palm devices, she said.
The Pre also uses a novel charging device that applies inductive technology via a round device shaped like a hockey puck, called the Palm Touchstone. Users place the phone on the Touchstone to charge it. The Touchstone, which will be sold separately, will require users to replace the back on the phone with a different back that includes magnets and circuits that allow the charge to occur, Deziel said. The inductive back has a different texture from the original, but weighs about the same.
Pricing has not been announced for the phone or the Touchstone. The Pre will be sold exclusively by Sprint Nextel Corp. in the U.S. for a time period that is not being disclosed, Deziel said.
Deziel said there are several subtle but distinctive features in the Pre. One feature, for example, allows the user to be "gently" notified when being sent an instant message. When the message comes, it doesn't pop up on the center of the screen, but scrolls up from the bottom in a less distracting way, she said.
The concept that Palm calls "synergy" means that the Pre will also act intelligently to perform various functions, including searches. In one example, Deziel showed how a user might want to find information on the Blue Man Group show in Las Vegas. She began typing the word "Blue" to get the information. As the word was being typed, the first three letters, "Blu" search began for contact information for a person named Bluth. But when the full name of the show was typed, the device automatically began searching for the show's Web site, where tickets could be purchased wirelessly with a credit card number entered into the Pre.
This story, "You Can't Teach a New Palm Pre Old Tricks" was originally published by Computerworld.