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Palm Introduces Prē Smartphone

LAS VEGAS--Remember the company named Palm that made handheld organizers and smartphones that people used to anticipate and covet, before it stopped putting any effort into its software and started leaving its users to wonder if it would ever get its act together again?

That company may be back. Palm introduced a new operating system and smartphone that looks nothing like its current, aging software and hardware and seems ready to compete with such sleek, Internet-savvy devices as Apple's iPhone and the Android-powered T-Mobile G1.


The new Prē smartphone--to be sold by Sprint sometime in the first half of this year at a price not yet announced--is about the size and shape of an iPhone, but it conceals a slide-out QWERTY keyboard beneath a 3.1-in. touchscreen. It includes a variety of wireless connectivity options: EvDO wireless data (which means Verizon Wireless could offer it later on, but AT&T and T-Mobile could not), WiFi, Bluetooth (with support for stereo audio output) and GPS. On the back, there's a 3-megapixel digital camera with a flash and a cover you can remove to replace the battery. Palm executive chairman Jon Rubinstein--who used to head up Apple's hardware engineering before joining Palm--quoted its weight as 4.8 ounces.

The Prē runs a new operating system called Web OS that relies on simple one- and two-finger gestures for most actions--yes, like an iPhone. But unlike Apple's smartphone, the Prē allows you to run multiple applications at once, using a deck-of-cards metaphor to shuffle among them.

Like the iPhone (when synced with Apple's MobileMe service) and the G1, the Prē is designed to sync not to your desktop or laptop, but to the Web. That includes not just whatever service Palm will offer (the Web OS developer sitting behind me during Palm's demonstration wouldn't say what that might be), but also such popular Web services as Google and Facebook.


A "Synergy" feature pulls down data from these different sites to mingle it together--for example, an address-book entry will include a friend's Facebook profile photo, while your calendar can list events stored in Google Calendar and on Facebook. If it works as advertised, this could be an elegant solution to the problem of separate online address books I noted last year.

The Prē's Web browser showed no problems navigating full-sized Web pages during the demo here. Palm developers and executives also demonstrated e-mail, instant-messaging, photo-viewing and music-playback programs. And the Prē can run third-party programs; a slide showing Web OS developers included such longstanding Palm software sources as DataViz (author of the Documents To Go program to edit Microsoft Office files) and newcomers like Pandora (which has written a version of its Internet-music application).

So that's what Palm's been up to. I should have a chance to inspect a Prē up close later today; what would you like me to check out then?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 8, 2009; 4:47 PM ET
Categories:  CES 2009 , Gadgets  
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Does the third party software include such indespensibles as flashplayer, which I, as of yet, have not figured out a way to download to my iphone.

Posted by: neeko | January 8, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Rob, it sounds great. And I love the fact that there is an actual keyboard. Also, how robust is the touch screen? The ones I'm seeing from LG products seem to have a short life span.

HOWEVER, the Sprint network around Washington is terrible and I have no desire to use it. So my question: When does Verizon get it? And who do I have to lobby to get Verizon to do it before the phone is obsolete?

Posted by: bagend | January 8, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Pls find out who makes the components...

Posted by: trblmkr1 | January 8, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Um, how much? If nobody's saying how much it's going to cost, that means it's going to cost a load. If they don't SLIGHTLY undercut the iPhone on price, it's going to be a tough haul. You know the first generations of these puppies will have issues, after all.

Posted by: mdean3 | January 8, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

When you say it syncs with "the web", does this include Exchange Servers?

Posted by: arlingtonian4 | January 8, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Will the Bluetooth do data transfer or just pair with audio devices?

Posted by: zippoz | January 8, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Well and good, but one of the main reasons for staying with Palm would be preservation of the investment in apps from Palm OS. Any word on the extent to which Treos can be "upgraded" to the pre, or is it more like going from a Treo to a G1 or iPhone?

Posted by: mike_leavitt | January 8, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Since I'm not in the market for a smartphone, I'm only curious what this means for Palm's desktop software. Will they release a modern version of Palm Desktop that's compatible with older devices like my Palm Z22?

Posted by: bokamba | January 8, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Frankly I adore the Palm TX, mainly for its FULL size foldable keyboard. I want to take notes, write up sometimes long-winded ideas and want to do it as fast as I can type, which is pretty fast, certainly a lot faster than thumbing. Can you attach via bluetooth a full-fledged keyboard ala other Palms? And are the usual Palm memos also available?

Posted by: sstevenson1 | January 8, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Those of us who just want a nice PDA with no phone (and no expensive data or service plan) have been left out in the cold by Palm for a LOOONG time. Now that they seem to have a decent multi-tasking OS, which they have been promising us ever since Access bought the OS rights, what are they going to do for us and OUR investment in Palm apps such as SplashData and DocumentsToGo? A Palm version of the iPod Touch?

This "sync to the Web" business has me a little suspicious. CrackBerry users know what happens when their service goes dark.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | January 8, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Can the operating program (address book, etc) be downloaded on Windows Vista 64 bit. Palm presently does not

Posted by: covetterooney1 | January 9, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Ron, Does this gadget have a good internal search engine, like Palm originally had, as i recall: one that finds individual words anywhere in the system, so you don't have to remember someone's last name to find the entry you want?
i continue to wonder why Apple, so proud of its amazing Spotlight for computer systems, refuses to provide this for the iPhone.

[kill this full address if you wish:]
John P MacKenzie
CityLights, 4-74 48th Ave apt 4D
Long Island City NY 11109-5602
718 340-1134  cell 917 270-7943

Posted by: JohnPMacKenzie | January 9, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

How much onboard memory will this device have for music storage etc.? I have been holding off on getting an Iphone until it reaches 32G one day. I like that fact that this device has a keyboard (and hopefully a stylus...yes I actually like them.

I am a currently Treo owner.

Posted by: RCinMaryland | January 9, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

@covetterooney1: While the existing desktop software ( version 6.2) doesn't support USB syncing with Vista 64-bit, you can sync using BlueTooth. On a desktop, this may mean buying a BlueTooth adapter and dedicating a USB port. But it does work.

Posted by: dagwinn | January 9, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Will the Pre be capable of syncing with a computer? I have Outlook on my office computer and want to sync to it rather than the web.

Posted by: vbt1 | January 9, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

1. Does it have true 'push' email capability?

2. In order to type on it, do you have to use the slide-out keyboard, or is there also a touch-enabled keypad on the screen?

3. Is third-party application capability explicitly planned? If so, is there a published SDK?

Posted by: va62 | January 9, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

1. If I rotate the Pre 90 degrees, does the display also rotate (like the iPhone)?

2. Is the slide-out keyboard usable or do you have to have tiny fingers?

3. Does Palm have an opinion on Near Field Communication? Meaning will they put contactless credit cards into their phones? (Sprint has trialed this with Samsung phones.)


John in Portland, OR

Posted by: hacksoft1 | January 9, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

- Is there a screen keyboard too?
- IMAP capable?
- Exchange server capable?
- Storage space? (Expandable? SD? CF?)

Posted by: MaxH | January 9, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Will the new OS work with Vista 64? Current OS does not support Vista 64.

Posted by: tjedrzej | January 9, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Hi Rob,

I've been a Treo / Palm Pilot user almost since they started. I've been waiting for my last one to die before I got an iPhone. Now it looks like the iPhone might have some competititon (finally!)

How does this sync via the web work? If I have pictures on my computer I don't want to have to upload them to some google server in the cloud just to get them on my phone.

Can it compete with the iPhone for showing movies?

In the iPhone you see all your voicemails listed out like emails. Will Sprint support this?

Is there support for MS Exchange servers? Will this thing work in the corporate world?

Do they have 3rd party developers committed yet? I like the way the Treo works now - I go out on the web and buy whatever I want - though I hear great things about the iTunes App store. What are they planning and when?


Posted by: tokrueger | January 9, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Rob - Palm is cool. Remember the old "zap" where you could get contact info using Palm Pilots (proprietary, not dynamic). So, now with SMS text, you can do "dubs" and get business or personal contact info from any PDA. Blatant pitch? Maybe.

Posted by: smittypa | January 9, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Can you find out if it will run existing Palm OS applications? The main reason I use a Treo is all the great applications that have been developed over the years.

Posted by: rb1123 | January 9, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

First and foremost, does it work as a PHONE????

Posted by: larryrob | January 9, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful. A successor to the Palm Treo that only runs on the Sprint-Nextel network. My heart be still: now I can have the most unreliable hardware with the most incompatible software on the one network that is most difficult to roam from? Did I miss anything?

I think I'll keep my Blackberry, thank you.

Posted by: hisroc | January 10, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

I, too, need to know if the Pre will use existing Palm OS programs. These are the only reason I stick with my Sprint Treo; it's sure not the quality of the Sprint carrier, which stinks. There are many highly useful Palm OS programs that I use to manage health, gasoline mileage, expenses, addresses, tasks, and even the phase of the moon (well, I don't manage that; it manages me). Before I'll give those up, I'll get a cheap cellphone and go back to my Palm Tungsten.

Posted by: fredpowledge | January 10, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

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