CES: Hot Palm Announcement/Trainwreck Liveblog Action

Recap: Palm’s annouced the Pre, the first device to use its new “webOS”. From my view, its form factor is a blend of the HTC Touch and the iPhone. The software looks an awful, awful lot like that of the iPhone — multitouch, gestures and so on. Many of the apps also have a very strong likeness to the iPhone, so it’s clear what Palm’s touchstone was. The thing is, though, when you set a touchstone like that, you generally end up only meeting it, rather than surpassing it. And I think that’s what Palm has done here. They’ve generally met the bar set by other software platforms, not raised it. By the time the Pre is in the market, I expect it will have been surpassed by devices from other vendors (watch this space in a month to see what comes out of MWC). And that’s the big issue for Palm: can they build on the great strides they’ve taken and keep improving, and come up with some more significant innovations of their own, or will they continue to lag the market and play catchup.

I’m impressed with the Pre, but tying it to Sprint’s flag will hamper its success, and I have a feeling that the significantly changed OS will alienate a lot of Palm’s most hardcore fans. Will it be enough to rescue Palm? I’m not so certain.

10:57 PST: I’m here at The Venetian waiting for the big Palm event to start, the one in which they’re supposed to announce their latest and greatest platform and device. This latest update to the Palm OS has been a loooooooong time coming. I was trying to remember when it was first mentioned — I’m sure it was several years ago, but honestly, there have been so many false starts and delays and corporate chopping and changing that I really can’t remember. In any case, I’m curious, and so are the scads of other people in the room.

I should disclose at the outset that I’m not expecting much of anything, and honestly, I’m here really to see if anything emerges that confirms my grim outlook for Palm emerges. I will keep you posted as things unfold…

10:59: Palm’s placed SmartWater, “Urban Detox” and “Brain Detox” drinks, and “Renew” Chocolates on tables throughout the room. Dunno if it’s coincidence, but I find it sorta amusing.

11:01: Jon Rubenstein, Palm chairman takes the stage. Lots of hooting and hollering, seems like there’s lots of Palm fans in the house.

11:05: “You need the right platform, one that’s forward-looking, not based on yesterday… I can’t think of any company better to do this than Palm.” Erm. CEO Ed Colligan takes the stage.

11:06: Colligan’s talking about the Palm Pilot and the innovation of it’s launch. Look, it was a good product, in its time, but you get the feeling Palm’s still living in the past. Talking about the Palm Pilot competing with pen and paper, and rolodex.

11:09: Now going on about the greatness of the Treo. Again, let’s move on, Ed… 10 minutes in and all hot air so far. Look, everybody in here gets mobile and the internet and how our lives are online… what have you got?

11:12: Man, this is all fluff so far. Now saying they’ll unveil “Palm webOS” in a few minutes… saying it was made with developers in mind and if you know HTML, CSS and other Web tech, you can program for it.

11:14: Rubenstein back with the Palm pre device. Looks like an iPhone ripoff crossed with one of the little HTC WinMo touchscreens.

11:15: EV-DO only. 3-megapixel camera. Specs not very impressive so far. Rubenstein highlights removable battery and gets lots of cheers.

11:18: 3.5mm headset jack — at least they got that right!

11:19: Slide-down QWERTY keyboard. When closed, it appears to be smaller than the silhouttes of the iPhone and Blackberry Curve. No idea on width yet.

11:21: Wow. Showing the OS and the contacts app. Looks really REALLY like the iPhone.

11:22: They’ve added lots of multitouch features they call “gestures” to navigate through the device. I feel like I’ve seen this before…

11:25: “Gestures”= The redux of Graffiti, ie somehing that most people won’t bother to learn?

11:26: It looks like you might be able to finally multitask. The UX head is showing how you can navigate between open apps and activities. He likens it to a deck of cards you flip through… I think most people will liken it to Apple’s Coverflow. There’s also something that looks a hell of a lot like the Dock on the Mac to call up apps.

11:28: “Synergy” — a contacts app that aggregates contact info from multiple sources, ie work contact info, Facebook, personal info. The calendar app also will aggregate from different sources (Outlook, Gcal, and so on), and let you view only particular calendars. This is definitely nice… but is it that innovative?

11:33: still going on about “Synergy”, now talking about it in email, where it aggregates all your email accounts and contacts. Again, nice, but hardly seems to be the innovation they think it is. Also stressing how the “Cards” feature lets you flip between apps without losing info. Isn’t that the same thing as multi-tasking, that lots of smartphones have offered for a long time?

11:39: Now touting the ability to start typing on the QWERTY keyboard, and the pre will search the device, then the web. Just like Quicksilver or Spotlight on Mac OS, or Qix on S60 4 years ago. Also, you can pinch to zoom in the web browser. Pinch me, once again I feel like I’ve seen this before.

11:48: Demo over. What Palm has done is catch up to the iPhone (very literally), Android, S60 and plenty of other platforms. The pre is a nice device, no doubt, but Palm hasn’t raised the bar, they’ve just reinforced the one that other vendors have set.

11:49: Now introducing “Touchstone”, a wireless induction charging accessory.

11:52: Will be a Sprint exclusive at launch.

11:53: Sprint CEO says he finds it amazing that you can check your calendar and send an email while you’re on a call on the speakerphone. Just for emphasis: the CEO of a major US operator is amazed by a phone that multitasks. The mind boggles.

12:00: Says it’s will be available from Sprint in the first half of the year… by which time I fully expect other manufacturers to have raised the bar.

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