From buying a Handspring Visor almost ten years ago until recently replacing a Tapwave Zodiac with a Nokia N810, I’d been a devotee of Palm OS-powered handheld devices. Unfortunately Palm seemed to go a bit bonkers in 2002, dividing up into software (PalmSource) and hardware (palmOne) companies; shades of Psion, though, unlike Symbian, PalmSource developed a new operating system that nobody (including palmOne) ended up using. palmOne eventually realised that, as stupid company names go, “palmOne” was rivalled only by whatever drivel contestants on The Apprentice come up with after several bottles of gin and half an hour’s shouting, and re-de-branded back to Palm, Inc. after a couple of years, but had lost momentum by then and seemed destined to fade away as Just Another Smartphone Company with their Treo line running either the increasingly dated Palm OS or *gasp* Windows Mobile. A Palm device running Microsoft software, was the blood we shed in the Palm OS vs PocketPC wars for nothing? (I say “wars”, it was more inter-newsgroup flamewars than actual military action, so the amount of blood spilled was pretty limited. Maybe the odd blister after some especially furious typing, and that’s serum rather than proper blood anyway, but I digress.) In hindsight the Palm Foleo could’ve been a herald of the netbook revolution, but whether it was the wrong product, the wrong time, the wrong company, the wrong price or the wrong trousers (Grommet, and they’ve gone wrong!) it never made it to launch, and just looked like another nail in the coffin.
Turns out Palm isn’t dead, though, they were just resting. You turn your back for five minutes, it nuzzles up to the bars, bends them apart, and VOOM! The Palm Pre (proving the Stupid Name Department haven’t all left), running Palm webOS.
The hardware of the Pre looks fairly nice if unspectacular, 480×320 screen, sliding keyboard, camera, the usual gubbins, it’s the webOS that catches the eye. It uses a “card” metaphor that sounds really rather interesting, an example from the ars technica piece being: “Instead of having multiple communications apps on the phone, any of which you can use to carry on a conversation via multiple services, you just open up a single chat card with that user. That chat card hosts a continuous stream of conversation that combines SMS messages and IM in a single, seamless interface and chat experience.” No sense in getting too excited just yet, though, the initial release will be a US EVDO model, fingers crossed it makes it to the UK before too long.
With the Pre (and maybe more webOS devices), the promise of more Android devices to join the G1 and of course the iPhone, I’m really hoping mobile providers in the UK might start to acknowledge that handheld-‘net-connected-computer-things aren’t (just) bloody phones and start offering plans where data isn’t an afterthought. O2’s “Web & Wi-Fi Bolt On” on Pay & Go, f’rexample, more options like that would be most appreciated.