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Saturday 13th, February 2016

Following the Palm Pre

Posted by Neil Mather on January 15, 2009

The big news from the CES this week was the unveiling of the Palm Pre.  It’s generated a huge amount of buzz, with almost entirely positive comment.

If the release actually goes to plan (US early 2009, with a European version to follow), the Pre is being touted as an iPhone killer, or at least the first mobile device to innovate above and beyond the standards set by the iPhone.

From the looks of it, it has a nice form factor, a good UI and a decent physical QWERTY.  As a developer though, the really interesting part is webOS.  It’s ‘based on Linux’, albeit with no more given detail than that, and applications are developed with a mix of HTML, CSS and Javascript using an SDK called Mojo.  According to early developers, the environment is very pleasant to use.

It seems there’s some confusion over webOS, perhaps partly due to the slightly misleading name.  Some people say, “it’s just web apps, Apple tried that and it didn’t work.”  Yes, it uses web technologies and keeps some data in the cloud, but it’s not simply a thin-client to a bunch of web apps; it has access to the underlying Linux too, in much the same way AIR leverages “web” technologies to create OS-hosted applications.  What will be interesting is just how much access to the underlying OS the Pre allows.  The same issue exists with AIR.  Our product Shu helps to overcome some of AIR’s limitations, giving the developer access to extra OS features, and it’s popular as a result.  With webOS, similar limitations may exist, and again may constrain developer take-up.

There’s speculation of Palm eventually removing the sandbox, but initial it seems it will be only be HTML/CSS/JS with things like file and database access.  This is a shame, as while such a stack is sufficient for your basic data-driven applications, if I wanted to do anything more complex, digital signal processing for example, I wouldn’t have a chance.  If you look at the iPhone it’s easy to see that apps other than data-driven business apps account for a significant amount of its popular appeal.

Regardless, the mix of mobile devices, cloud computing and RIAs doesn’t get much more on-the-pulse, so we’ll be following the progress of the Pre with great interest.

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