Palm: Back from the dead

Do you remember Palm? Or their PalmPilot? It seems like years since people had PalmPilots... overtaken by the Blackberry and the iPhone. Palm's been floundering in it's own inefficiency and lack of zeal for the last 10 years or so. Until now. I declare that Palm is back, and is badder (read: better) than ever. The second gadget at CES that has got me really excited, is Palm's new handheld OS: WebOS, and their new device: the Pre.

Let us review the list of requirements for the ever-elusive ultimate-smartphone: 1: Give me the iPhone's ecosystem, processing power, and polish without the draconian approval process and limits on what developers can do. 2: Give me the [Blackberry] Bold's keyboard and speed. 3: Give me the [T-Mobile] G1's open source roots and (most importantly) Gmail integration. 4: Get syncing right once and for all. 5: Make sure it has some screen real estate, and lose the resistive touch.

With those in mind, read Engadget's in-depth break down of the phone. It's too early to tell for sure, but it might just be that Palm will climb back on top.

A quick swipe up with your thumb slides a launcher (essentially a prettied up traditional Palm app screen) over your current state. What's notable is that you never leave the application you're in to do this. It goes up, then it goes away. Unlike the iPhone (which is really its nearest competitor), webOS provides true multitasking, allowing you to switch between active apps. You don't have to close and reopen, just shuffle through your programs. If you switch to another app, the UI scales back the program you're in down to that deck of "cards," then zooms up the new selection. By pressing the center button on the phone, you zoom out all of your cards, and can swipe through them to find what you're looking for. The content inside of the cards isn't just a snapshot like tabs in Mobile Safari -- they're live applications that can be flipped and manipulated. You can also rearrange the cards in any order by touching and holding, then sliding them around.

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...something that Palm calls Synergy, which allows you to pull together contacts and calendars from lots of different sources, but without altering or merging that data. Synergy will grab the same contact from Facebook, Gmail, and Outlook, then combine those into a "stack" of info for that person on your phone. It looks for duped data, so you don't get doubles of phone numbers or names. It's essentially a contact aggregator, and if they can pull this off, it will end a lot of headaches for a lot of people. It looks like it will do the same for calendars, and it's also pooling IM services together, allowing for modes where you can keep a threaded conversation going with someone over SMS, AIM, GTalk, and other services.

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What may be most astounding at the core of the OS, however, is the way apps are to be crafted. All of the applications for the phone will be coded in standard CSS, XML, and JavaScript, meaning the learning curve for creating content and programs on the phone will be almost nonexistent for developers who know their way around coding for sites.