Palm announces WebOS and Pre phone

Device and OS more tightly integrate e-mail, IM, and search, to make it easier to use

Palm is hoping to get back on track with its new Pre touch phone, which comes equipped with the equally new operating system WebOS, both announced on Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show.

The Pre and the operating system use a couple of key concepts to make the phone easy to use, and to tightly integrate it with Internet services for e-mail, instant messaging, and search, as well as with Facebook.

[ InfoWorld's Test Center reviews the new BlackBerry Bold. And to learn more about which software programs now run on Apple's mobile device, read "iPhone apps get down to business." ]

For example, the phone organizes multiple active applications using "activity cards," large icons that line up on the display. Using the touch interface, users can flip through them, move them around, or throw them off screen by dragging a finger from the bottom to the top of the screen.

Bringing together multiple data sources into one view is also an important part of the Pre and WebOS user experience. Users can, for example, group together Outlook, Google, and Facebook calendars or collect e-mail from multiple accounts in one inbox. All conversations with the same person over instant messaging or text messaging are grouped together in one chat-style view.

Things like new text messages and calendar appointments appear as pop-up notifications at the bottom of the screen.

The phone doesn't just use touch; it also comes with a QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the bottom of the phone. When the keyboard slides out, the phone becomes slightly curved. Just using a "cheesy virtual keyboard" doesn't cut it, said Jon Rubinstein, executive chairman at Palm, in a direct dig at his former employer Apple, with its famed iPhone onscreen keyboard.

Like most other companies that announce smartphones these days, Palm couldn't resist taking a couple jabs at market leader Apple. The executives also highlighted the fact that the Pre battery can be removed, unlike the iPhone battery.

Users can start typing on the keyboard to begin searching for contacts or applications -- a feature Palm calls Universal Search. If it doesn't find anything on the phone it gives the user the option of choosing from a list of sites to search, including Google and Wikipedia.

The phone will start shipping during the first half of 2009, Palm CEO Ed Colligan said.

Sprint will get exclusive access to the phone in the United States, and its CEO, Dan Hesse, was on stage during the announcement hyping its capabilities. Hesse likes the fact that he can speak on the phone and at the same time check the calendar and send an e-mail.

Pricing for the Pre hasn't been announced.

On the hardware side, the phone has support for EvDO Rev A, 802.11b/g, GPS, Bluetooth with stereo support, a 3-megapixel camera with LED flash and 8GB of built-in storage, but no memory card slot

The phone has a 3.1-inch screen with a 320-by-480 resolution.

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