Last year, Palm came out with their first WebOS-powered smartphone, the Pre. But while it was shiny and innovative, that didn’t stop it from being kicked to the curb by the iPhone and Android, the way the Amiga was by Macs and Windows PCs.
Now, several months after HP has bought Palm for cheap, they’ve come out with the HP Palm Pre 2, powered by WebOS 2. Are we going to see these on subways, or are Palm phones still just for diehard fans? Let’s take a look.
What the HP Palm Pre 2 has going for it
Hardware-wise, if you liked the original Pre you’ll probably like the Pre 2. The Engadget review doesn’t say much about it, but from the pictures and specs that they’ve posted it looks like it’s basically the same phone, just with a flat glass front and a significantly more powerful processor. Since the original Palm Pre was hampered by slowdown, this could be a Big Deal.
For those of you who weren’t already familiar with the Palm Pre, the HP Palm Pre 2 is basically a midrange smartphone with three unique features! First, its optional Touchstone charger, a magnetic circle you just click it onto to start recharging its batteries. Second, its slide-out BlackBerry-style keyboard, complete with a lip you can use to cut cheese. And third, the software that powers it, WebOS 2.
What WebOS 2 is
Like the AmigaOS of yore, HP Palm’s WebOS is in some ways ahead of its time. It supported multitasking, or running multiple apps at once, when it first came out. But it was slow and clunky at doing so, because of the first Pre’s slow processor.
Now, thanks to the HP Palm Pre 2’s much more powerful processor, WebOS’ unique card-based multitasking might be more useful. In a nutshell, each app you have open is a “card” on the screen, and you can slide them back and forth, and stash them at the top of the screen when you’re not using them. On the downside, HP WebOS requires you to actually think about how many apps you have open, and close apps you aren’t using … unlike Android and the iPhone’s iOS, which manage your apps for you.
WebOS’ Synergy feature aggregates all your contacts and data from Facebook, Gmail and elsewhere, while its Just Type is sort of like Spotlight or Windows search; start typing anything on the hardware keyboard, then tap the action you want to do with it, like write an email to someone whose name begins with those letters.
Both Synergy and Just Type have APIs open to developers, meaning that people who write apps for WebOS can add actions to Just Type or contacts and things to Synergy. But the question is, who writes apps for WebOS? Not nearly as many people as write them for Android or iOS … and that may be the HP Palm Pre 2’s biggest problem.
HP Palm’s official HP Palm Pre 2 site shows “name-brand” apps like Angry Birds available for it. But just how many are there? About 5000 as of September 2010, it seems, while Android has tens of thousands of apps and iOS has hundreds of thousands. Even being available on Verizon’s network in the United States might not overcome that disadvantage, especially not if the iPhone comes to Verizon. Apps are things you can do with your phone … and while no one has even one thousand apps installed on theirs, the more apps there are available, the more likely it is you can find the one that you want.
Perhaps HP didn’t buy Palm just to get the Palm Pre, but rather so that it could get WebOS, to use on HP devices. In that case, the HP Palm Pre 2 might simply be a product that Palm had already been working on when they got bought.
Will there be a Pre 3? Who knows? Play with the HP Palm Pre 2 in the store if it interests you, maybe, and is on a network that you are okay with. Then compare it with Android and Apple alternatives. But whatever smartphone you end up using, I hope that you have fun with it.