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CES: More on the Palm Pre

Posted by: Cliff Edwards on January 08, 2009

After watching the entire walk-through of the new Palm webOS and its implementation on the Pre (pronounced Pree), it’s clear that its designers stole a lot of good ideas from other devices, including the multi-touch capability of the Apple iPhone.

But there a lot of good things the company appears to have developed on top of current cellular technology that could—if Palm succeeds in luring developers and customers back to the fold—change the way people think about smartphones.

The most unique thing about the new operating system and device is its ability to let you run a number of applications at the same time without having to either close one, or hit several buttons on the phone to back up to another app. It really does function like Windows or Apple computers (though Palm calls each open application a ‘card’). You could, for instance, be on the speakerphone and pull up your calendar to set a meeting and send a text to someone else to confirm.

Then there’s a neat feature dubbed synergy that doesn’t distinguish between contacts, calendars or messages from a number of sources, including a user’s Facebook contacts, a home or office PC Outlook program, email sources or instant messaging choices.

If the software works as promised (and other companies allow links), it truly can tear down the walls between the many sources of information and communication that we all use today.

Palm has chosen Sprint and its U.S.-based 3G network as its exclusive launch partner for the device, expected to hit shelves “sometime in the first half,” Palm CEO Ed Colligan says.

As I mentioned previously, it may not be the best choice for a company looking to stage a major comeback since Sprint is considered the weakest of the major national carriers. But it could give Palm time to work the kinks out of the new operating system, which some industry watchers say is being rushed to market before all the bugs have been completely worked out.

Even so, the reaction to Palm’s announcement has been extremely positive. Just about everyone I spoke to said they’re rooting for one of the industry’s underdogs. I certainly look forward to taking the Pre for a longer test run.

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Reader Comments

Amit Upadhyaya

January 9, 2009 12:30 AM

I am surprised that writer has mentioned "Ability of run a number of application" as a unique feature. This functionality is there in Symbian OS for many years. You can very well stay on speaker phone and continue using other applications.


January 9, 2009 03:45 AM

Yes indeed Amit, and windows mobile has the feature as well, I don't know about the blackberry.

The thing is that the iphone does not, which happens to be the device to which all new phones are being compared to..

What makes the Palm Pre so unique is this synergy thing, the way it combines several communication platforms.


January 9, 2009 09:04 AM

America is 'blind' to Symbian OS capabilities, mostly because Nokia have not chosen to penetrate the market agressively.

As Amit describes, these features in the Pre are not so remarkable--they have been in Symbian S60 for years.

Get a real smartphone. Nokia. Open to Anything.

Dietrich T. Schmitz
Linux IT Consultant

Gregory Block

January 10, 2009 01:58 AM

America is 'blind' to Symbian OS for the same reason the rest of us are - it's buggy, it's ugly, and it isn't nice to use.

Roll on, contenders. One of these days Symbian might wake up and smell the coffee, but until then, I'd rather see someone else do something new.


January 10, 2009 01:58 AM

Yes, you 2. I've used s60s for years, and you're right - multitasking is very much theee, but the Pre is showing other open apps as little tabs right there on your screen. No press+hold menu key to see whats open and switch. So that is a bit more visually appealing and simpler for 'smartphone'-users raised on the iphone. And yes, following US media about smartphones you get the impression the iphone was the 1st phone with a browser...tsssk! And don't get me started on the appstore!!! It's not Palm's fault that perception is all. And the iphone has created so much misinformation, hype and warped perception that it's very hard to hype back at them while also serving the real 'smartphone'-users: s60 and wm fans!
But reason left public 'debate' about phones when the iphone hype-machine created so much white noise that thinking became an impossible chore for many. And since the need to justify buying a fashion phone (and that is all the iffone is) as a live or die decision began to dominate public discourse, real phonemakers fight windmills and quixotes at the same time. Not easy!


January 10, 2009 01:59 AM

The ability to be on a phone call, send a txt message, view your contacts, add a calendar appointment, check your email and get a 3 way call going at the same time exists in the current palm treo based phones running the palm OS.

This feature was available for years and years. And if everyone can remember, Palm was the 1st to the table with these smart-phone features several years ago.

Why this writer is touting it as brand new is beyond me...?

I was able to do this with every Palm based treo phone I've had. Palm VII, 650, 700, Centro....


January 10, 2009 02:03 AM

Y'all copied apple and now your ashamed my iPhone does some apps symultaniously phone and address book or iPod and maps... Next free upgrade...

John Swords

January 10, 2009 02:03 AM

Besides Symbian, the iPhone can be used as a phone while simultaneously setting appointments or looking up data.


January 10, 2009 02:35 AM

Sorry peter, the thing that makes the new palm os unique is the ability to run palm os apps. your right about the synergy... but wrong about its source.

the real advantage of any palm device is that it can run the code I've written for it.

palm os user since 1995
palm developer since 1997
ex Apple Computer Inc since 1998

Zubin Wadia

January 10, 2009 02:41 AM

Some nice analysis here on the Palm Pre's market strategy and WebOS programming environment on my ad-free blog:




January 10, 2009 02:55 AM

I'm curious about something:
The author seems to mention that the new Palm OS includes multi-touch capacity. Is that true? If so, how are they planning to get around Apple's patent?

Additionally, as an iPhone developer, I can easily point out the system can (and in fact does on a regular basis) run multiple programs at a time. Apple just prevents third party apps from being a background process. The phone and e-mail applications are pretty much active constantly with a few other system processes as well. I'm guessing that limitation has something to do with the limited amount of RAM in the iPhone (128 MB) and lack of an ability to "page-out" as part of the virtual memory system. (Memory is also probably one of the major reasons so many apps crash on the iPhone)

Michael Hasenstein

January 10, 2009 03:06 AM

The writer is immature. To use "to steal" for taking ideas of other people is simply a sign of extreme stupidity (not that the author is alone...).
EVERYONE "steals". Who lives in a cave and developes ANYTHING from scratch???


January 10, 2009 03:18 AM

let you run a number of applications at the same time "without having to hit several buttons on the phone to back up to another app."

RTFA pls

Sohail Sadiq

January 10, 2009 03:40 AM

Yes, you can also talk on speaker phone on Blackberry while doing the other things like reading or sending email, checking phone book at the same time.


January 10, 2009 03:56 AM

Actually, the iPhone can run other apps... the phone is a service, the app is only the phone UI. If you hit the Home button while in a call, you will find yourself back at Springboard, able to continue using programs just fine. The status bar will be flashing with a 'Tap to Return to Call' message, to allow you to quickly pop back to the phone app from anywhere.

I've used Windows Mobile, PalmOS, Symbian and now the iPhone OS; I don't think *any* smartphones actually prevent you from running other programs while on the phone. Even the iPhone's limitation is only that it keeps the userspace programs from running in the background.


January 10, 2009 03:57 AM

R u kidding me? You can use any application while using the speaker phone( iPhone) quit being a hater.


January 10, 2009 04:08 AM

It's true that symbian has the ability to multitask and on paper it also has most features of iphone (more really).

The problem with Symbian S60 is the interface and design of the software is terrible. iPhone may have less capabilities on paper, but in practice the users are able to do MUCH more as the software is easy to use.


January 10, 2009 04:09 AM

BlackBerry will let you run multiple 3rd party apps at once. It has something like Alt+Tab switching. The only one that doesn't seem to do it is the iPhone. Playing music in the menu doesn't count. :)


January 10, 2009 04:15 AM

iPhone does not? I do that on my iPhone constanstly: surf the net, SMS, email, Facebook, while on speakerphone.

Patrick McIver

January 10, 2009 04:18 AM


You should get your facts straight before making wild claims about the iPhone, that are patently false. You can indeed stay on speaker phone and continue using other applications on the iPhone. I do it all the time. And Peter, I suggest you do the same before confirming false assertions!

P. Partridge

January 10, 2009 04:18 AM

The old PalmOS would allow you to talk on speaker phone and look/add/enter a contact or diary event and I think SMS as well and all by just taping one button and not a string of menu's
I have a Palm Pro and cant wait to trade it in for the Pre


January 10, 2009 04:34 AM

To Dietrich: we would love to get Nokia smartphones in US but all they do - promise a lot, deliver nothig and nowhere...

Frank Germann

January 10, 2009 04:45 AM

"Pre (pronounced Pree)". I think it should be pronounced "Pray".


January 10, 2009 04:59 AM

The iphone does allow certain applications to run at the same time. As in the example above I can be on the speaker phone and pull up my calendar to add a new item. One can also listen to iTunes while surfing the web.

Allan Tan

January 10, 2009 05:21 AM

I stuck with Palm because of the simple yet efficient Palm Desktop software that was able to sync 5,000 contacts effortlessly.

Having had 3 of them, I eventually I tired of the aged and flaky Palm OS Treos and bought a very stable E61 (alas, no touchscreen). A smartphone that occasionally crashes is not acceptable in this day and age. Hope the Pre is as good as they say it is.

Allan Tan


January 10, 2009 05:21 AM

Lot of ifs and maybes in this wishful puff piece


January 10, 2009 06:02 AM

re: windows mobile (etc...)
Anyone who has ever used it know that it sucks, and sucks mighty hard. It locks and freezes and be careful about running too many apps because it'll slow to a snails pace. Long live palm os. I can't wait to check this thing out, especially since I'm a sprint user.

palm 755p


January 10, 2009 06:06 AM

Ok, Nokia does have some S60, and it works, but is often too complicated to use during calls. And there is that thing with Nokia not supporting EAP-TTLS, and as such being completely useless on campuses in Europe that support eduroam. My problem with that is not the fact S60 does not support it, but that Nokia is open to anything as long as it is completely mainstream, and if it's not, there is no way to add support later...


January 10, 2009 06:06 AM

I'm a long-time Symbian user (after switching from Palm). Capable as Symbian is, it is hard to use, unintuitive, and buggy. Most users just use it as a regular phone; many don't even figure out how to switch tasks.

Symbian is the best choice right now for people who must have a smart phone (iPhone is too limited, WinMo and Palm are even worse), but it's never going to be mainstream.


January 10, 2009 06:31 AM

I have had the Treo 700P for 2 years (Palm), and depend on the ability to access my calendar while I am on speaker. This is not new.


January 10, 2009 07:41 AM

I like what I'm seeing--maybe. What I want is a phone with PDA functions, but is not necessarily a smartphone. Frankly, I don't need to log on to the Internet on my phone and I think the data costs of $30/month are absurd for casual users.

Does the Pre act like a PDA? Can I enter data on a calendar on my desktop, sync it to my cell phone, etc. That's what I need.


January 10, 2009 09:32 AM

Symbian and Windows guys are missing the point about number of applications running at the same time, although it is the author's fault for not explaining the functionality well.

Pre transcends other smartphones by having true multi-tasking and by having all apps open on screen similar to a Mac computer. The current old technology Palm Treos can review a calender app while still on a phone or conference call. That is not true multi-tasking.

The Pre supposedly can run a YouTube video, have an Excel spreadsheet open all while running an IM conversation. No Symbian, iPhone or Windows unit can do that.


January 10, 2009 10:10 AM

This phone will be a flop for two reasons:

1) It doesn't have a removeable memory card. Once the 8 gig is full, you have to start deleting stuff.

2) Palm's support is lousy. Whatever bugs may exist on this phone will be ignored by Palm. In fact, it will probably be released with significant bugs that will take far too long to resolve, if they resolve them at all.

After having a 600, a 650 and then suffering through the fiasco of the 700p and the 800w, and now seeing this new device, they have lost me as a customer. They will not survive given their track record.

Gerry Martinez

January 10, 2009 11:26 AM

The ability of a device to run simultaneous voice & data applications is a feature of the network (e.g. 3G UMTS) not the OS.


January 10, 2009 12:38 PM

America is 'blind' to Symbian devices because PalmOS devices dominated the market right when Symbian-based devices were being pushed. Contrary to popular belief, Nokia DID put up a good battle for mind share here. Unfortunately, or fortunately, they cut their losses and concentrated on Europe after Palm beat them.


January 10, 2009 01:19 PM

Tragic, regardless of how good their new product is Palm is too late to the party. Within few years now Palm will be gone.

The iPhone market share is probably hard to convert. I've had several Palms, and I now have both a Nokia and an iPhone. I'm not buying anything as dead-end as a Palm device.


January 10, 2009 11:07 PM

"...I'm not buying anything as dead-end as a Palm device"

Is this day, anything with out expanded memory capability is Dead End. The iPhone could be all that the hype makes it out to be if it had a SD slot for expanded capabilities.

I have lived with my Treo 700 and its full SD slot with an SD Plus Card (An SD card that can convert and be plugged directly into a USB port). Moving away from this setup will be difficult.

The ability to always have means of getting info to/from a computer with my 8GB SD Plus card in my phone that is always with me....natively, no need for Cables, Adapters. Priceless

The Pre will be a killer smart phone. Might have been, THE smart phone with expanded/removeable mem capabilities....

Bring back the full size SD Slot in the next great killer smart fone!


January 11, 2009 06:21 PM

I have an iPhone but am honestly considering switching to the Pre. I think the writer means to say that being able to view each of these programs as cards and simply throw them away when you're finished is revolutionary. It allows the user to easily see what is and is not taking up system resources, which is one aspect i love about the pre.

Instead of restricting users from running background applications becasue of battery power (whatever happened to the push notifications) palm allows the user to run the applications they want to run. So i can have im, email, a webpage, and a few more items running at the same time updating live as a switch from screen to screen.

Lets hope the palm pre is as wonderful they say it is. No one was able to touch it at ces, so i wonder if palm was trying to hide something.


January 12, 2009 01:53 AM

I also have an Iphone and it is truly amazing but now more interesting phones are on their way including Palm Pre and one by Google.

Soon by next year we will 4th Generation phones available and be released.

It is good that Palm Pre has powerful operating system that lets you run a lot of applications at same time to function as Windows or Macintosh, so it is good for using internet and for business and professional purposes wherever you are.


January 12, 2009 02:54 AM

"Pre’s introduction, website, technology packaging, industrial design, UI, product naming and positioning…down to the flow of its CES presentation were pointedly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Apple-like. Of all the current iPhone competitors, Pre clearly captures the “soul” of the iPhone as much as any product not-from-Cupertino can. Whatever Pre “borrows” from the iPhone, it does so not with the brazen indifference of recent iPhone-killers, but with care and purpose."


"Palm is clearly late to iPhone’s party. By the time the first Pre is sold, the iPhone will likely have 30 million users in 70+ countries, 15,000 apps, a huge developer and peripherals ecosystem, perhaps a third of the market share and 40% of smartphone revenues. And that’s before the next generation iPhone device and OS are introduced."

I explored Pre's chances in:

Strategic shortcomings of Pre in the post-iPhone era


January 12, 2009 08:09 AM

I'm not sure what's the big deal about talking on the phone, then using it to do check a calendar or anything else...I can do that on my G1 running Android.

The other day, I was talking on speakerphone on my G1, and browsed the internet to confirm something at the same time.

So, what's the big deal about WebOS and Palm's PRE? Analysts are acting as if this is some big deal, and it's just an incremental improvement of existing phones on the market. By the time WMC comes around, a whole new batch of phones will one-up the PRE...then what?

Palm is just a bit player.

Nagendra ANubhukta

January 12, 2009 09:32 AM

While the WebOS seems to be exciting, I don't see any thing New that Palm is taking about. All Mobile Phones (recent ones) are capable of Multi tasking. I own an iPhone and its the best in the Lot for now.

Lets see if Pre can really Showcase the Diff. once it starts coming on to the actuals PAMLS of public.

Good Luck To Palm Though.

Biker Y

January 12, 2009 01:17 PM

I have been a Palm user from the age of the PalmIII. I even now use a life drive, Will I get a Pre? No. It is on Sprint. Rotten coverage, on the west coast anyway... I have shifted all our company phones to Verizon, they have coverage where we go, even Europe - 8830's run very well there. iPhone, you can keep it. AT&T is not worth the lousy coverage, but they do have Mexico, No wonder all the illegals like it. But the Palm is a solid OS. Do I care about multiple applications, not really. Real world, I might look up a phone number while talking to somebody. I can do notes, calander, anything from my home screen while on the phone. This is on my Blackberry Storm. The biggest this Palm has going for it is all the applications out there. Good luck Palm!

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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