Monday, February 16, 2009

Editorial: The Evolution of Palm OS

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about Palm OS and her Centro. She was surprised to see that my email signature read, “Sent from my BlackBerry Curve” and not “Sent from my Palm Treo 755p.”

The conversation continued a few hours later when Geri and I met face to face. The problem wasn’t that I was using a BlackBerry. My friends are used to seeing me with some new gadget every few months. In fact they expect it, demanding to see my new “toy” when we get together. Geri has never been one to pull her punches and asked, “Is the Palm OS dead?” She was questioning her recent decision to buy a Centro that I recommended when I was still using my Treo 755p and she a Z22. My response was that Palm OS had evolved into something completely new.

When Palm launches their new Pre smartphone, likely to be sometime in the next 90 days, it will mark the ending of the Palm OS era and the beginning of the new Palm webOS platform. Yes, webOS will be virtually indistinguishable from the Palm OS. webOS will be controlled by your finger - not a stylus or navigation ring. Applications will be written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript rather than C/C++. And our old applications will not run on the new platform.

webOS, and the Pre, is all about simplicity. The user interface of webOS will be clean and functional. Palm developed webOS to be intuitive, so you will be able to learn it’s gestures quickly without having to flip through a thick manual with small print. Most importantly, webOS will be able to multitask so it can switch from task to task as quickly as you do. In short, Palm took their Zen of Palm design philosophy from Palm OS and transplanted it into the DNA of webOS.

Yes, the software is all-new, but the legendary Palm ease of use and attention to the customer’s needs is still there, at the heart of the new OS.

“Ok, so that sounds nice. But will my data transfer?,” was the next question. For the legions of Palm OS users who nervously await the arrival of the Pre, this is the $64,000 question. Without knowing the specific details, we all know, deep down, that the answer will be “Yes.” Why am I so sure? Palm wants their Palm OS customers to upgrade someday.

When Palm announced webOS and the Pre last month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), they focused on the built-in applications and the new hardware. They did talk about a new synchronization engine called “Synergy” in conjunction with Outlook, the cloud (read: Internet), Gmail, and Yahoo. But there was no mention of Palm Desktop or the PIM application data that is currently stored in our Palm Centro and Treo smartphones today.

Let’s set aside my theory about Palm’s own web portal solution, that will link your Mac OS X or Windows PC to a Palm server which in turn links to your Pre or other future webOS device for a minute. During the CES presentation, Palm displayed a slide that listed a number of companies that they were working with to develop software for the new platform. One of those companies was Chapura, a company that has had a long relationship with Palm. Chapura was there when I started using a Palm back in 1999. Ten years later, Chapura is still developing great software that unlocks the data in your computer and puts it at your fingertips wherever you are. Even if Palm choses to get out of the desktop software business entirely, I am confident that Chapura, DataViz, or SplashData will develop a tool for migrating your data either from your computer to your new phone or from your old Palm OS Centro or Treo to your new Pre or a cloud portal (read: Google or Yahoo). The thing to take away is that even though Palm isn’t talking about data migration right now, rest assured, there will be multiple ways to move your data over. You won’t be left to retype your contacts list into your new Pre.

To summarize, Palm OS will not be used in any more devices from Palm. Palm officials have been crystal clear on that point. Devices that use Palm OS today will not stop working when the Pre begins to ship with webOS. Palm’s webOS is all together different than Palm OS, however, Palm’s special “secret sauce” will ensure that webOS will be just as easy to use as Palm OS is today. And Palm has a plan for migrating your data to a new device.

So how about it Palm? Can we start talking about the specifics around webOS, Synergy, and the migration path from Palm OS?

Oh, and about the BlackBerry being my everyday device? I’ve already migrated all of my contacts from Palm Desktop into my Google Gmail account and I’m wirelessly synchronizing data between the two. Just think of the BlackBerry as a place holder until I buy my new Palm Pre smart(er)phone.

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