The Smartphone Forecast for 2009

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The Palm Pre and the Apple iPhone 3G S are the smartphone standouts of 2009, but they're not the only news. Operating systems are receiving updates, new devices are debuting, and app stores are growing by the day. Here's what to look for from the six big operating systems in smartphones today.

Apple iPhone OS 3.0
iPhone 3G S
iPhone 3G S

At this week's World Wide Developer Conference, Apple introduced the iPhone 3G S, its third-generation iPhone, and announced availability for iPhone OS 3.0. While the exterior of the new phone looks identical to that of the iPhone 3G, the real changes are inside. Apple says the "S" stands for speed: The company's benchmarks show that the iPhone 3G S launches messages twice as fast, loads games 2.4 times faster, and opens attachments 3.6 times faster.

Though Apple has indicated that it changed inside components, it hasn't directly confirmed exactly what is responsible for the speed boost. Judging by winks and nods from those in the know, however, we've come to assume that it has both a faster processor and additional memory as compared with the iPhone 3G.

Some performance improvements will be independent of the network, but others won't be--which raises questions about whether you'll see those improvements over your local AT&T connection. Over the last few years, iPhone customers have complained about AT&T's signal coverage across the country, particularly in densely populated areas (remember the South by Southwest meltdown?). The iPhone 3G S will be able to work with AT&T's forthcoming faster HSPA 7.2 technology, but the network upgrade won't start until later this year and won't be finished until 2011.

Other new features include a built-in digital compass application and voice control. The camera jumps from 2 to 3 megapixels, too. Unfortunately, Apple did not throw in a flash, but it gets some pretty nifty features nonetheless; for instance, you can control the focus either by tapping on the screen or by using the autofocus feature. Plus, you get the most exciting--and long-awaited--feature, video recording and editing.

iPhone OS 3.0, which was announced in March, will be released June 17, 2009, at no charge for iPhone users (iPod users must pay $10 for the new OS). Push notification, cut/copy/paste, landscape mode for additional apps, and Spotlight search are just a few of the new features. Unfortunately, neither tethering nor MMS--both enabled by OS 3.0--will be available to United States customers at launch due to some internal issues within AT&T.

Palm webOS

Palm Pre with webOS
Palm Pre with webOS
The Palm Pre smartphone ($200 with a two-year contract from Sprint as of 6/4/09), along with the company's much-anticipated webOS operating system, made a splash when it debuted last week. While the Pre isn't perfect, it definitely does not disappoint: It has a slick, curved design, a highly responsive touchscreen, and an engaging OS. The biggest complaints we had were with the hardware itself--the cramped keyboard, in particular.

The sparse App Catalog was also subject to criticism, but it holds promise. The App Catalog makes navigating and shopping for apps from the Pre easy, and many of the apps take full advantage of webOS's best features. We fully expect the Catalog to grow quickly in the coming months; since webOS is built on standard Web technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, developers do not have to learn a new programming language, and as a result they should be able to create apps easily and quickly. Initially, Mojo, webOS's software developer kit (SDK), was available only to select developers. That will change when the public SDK debuts. According to Palm, the public SDK is "very close to launch."

As expected, customers were faced with Pre shortages on opening day. Some people waited in line for hours only to find that their local Best Buy, Sprint Store, or Radio Shack had been cleaned out. PC World contributor Paul Suarez heard from his local Radio Shack that they wouldn't have any Pres in stock until mid-August. And shoppers hoping to avoid lines and buy online were left hanging when Sprint quietly nixed availability on the day before launch.

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