The smartphone market is heating up. For business users in particular, smartphones are rapidly becoming the handhelds of choice -- what with Windows Mobile maintaining a solid presence, Google's Android platform on the rise, and iPhone neck and neck with Research in Motion's BlackBerry platform as the road warrior's digital accoutrement of choice.
That's great news for the mobile carriers -- and for customers -- but the big picture for mobile application developers is less clear. With smartphone OS options proliferating, it seems as if the dream of the truly cross-platform mobile apps could be receding further than ever.
[ Palm joins a crowded field of mobile offerings. Check out its competitors: "InfoWorld's guide to next-gen mobile." ]
And as if four major players weren't enough, here comes the dark horse entry in the race. Just when you thought it was safe to count Palm out, it's back, and it's bringing not just a sleek new handset but a brand-new OS to boot.
Does this embattled company really think that it can compete with the leading developer of innovative e-mail enabled handsets and three of the world's largest IT vendors at the same time?
Handhelds raised high
Here's the good news. After years of false starts and broken promises, Palm has finally realized what the pundits and analysts have been saying for years: The clock is not only ticking, but it's almost run out. I doubt that any Palm execs would go so far as to categorize the new handset, the Palm Pre, as a Hail Mary pass -- but surely even they must realize that this company won't get many more chances.
Now here's the bad news. In their infinite wisdom, Palm's marketing gurus have chosen to label the company's brand-new OS with the cringe-inducing moniker "webOS" -- complete with circa-1999 dot-com capitalization.
But let's not be too hasty to condemn that decision as mere hype. Maybe there's more to it than meets the eye.
If there's one thing that all of the modern smartphone operating systems have in common, it's that they all know better than to try to reinvent the wheel. Apple's iPhone SDK is based on Mac OS X's established Cocoa APIs, just as Microsoft based its own offering on the familiar Windows programming model. Google's Android and the BlackBerry platform, on the other hand, are both based on Java, which Sun Microsystems has been marketing aggressively for use on mobile devices.