CES 2009: Palm's new Web OS in detail

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palm-web-os.jpgPreviously known as “Nova”, Palm has just rechristened and launched its new OS “Web OS”. It’s an amazingly dreary name for a collection of concepts that could reshape how we use our mobile mobiles (but probably won’t). The bottom line is that Palm is bending head-over-heels to make their platform easy for developers – so easy that they reckon anyone who knows HTML, CSS and XML will be able to write an app.

The UI, even though I detest the comparison, is very iPhone-like. You flick the display to scroll around, and there’s various gestures that you can use, too. Everything’s managed with a ‘cards’ metaphor, where you see a deck that can be rotated with a finger and shuffled. The biggest feature, though, is something called “Synergy”.

Synergy is basically a contact aggregator. Like the INQ1, it pulls in your Facebook friends, but it also pulls in friends from GMail, AIM, Outlook and other services. That means that any IMs, emails, messages, whatever, are all aggregated in one place. The same thing happens for calendar events, too.

“Universal Search” is another concept that’s central to the device. Typing on the keyboard will bring up a predictive text menu that goes through everything on your phone, and suggests what you might be trying to open. Typing “Cal” therefore, will bring up the calendar, but if you’ve installed a random application called “Fsdfnsdl”, and you type “Fsd”, then that’ll come up in the list, too – it’s not limited to factory-installed software. You can also use this to search Google.

All applications have access to a central notifications system, which will automatically resize apps so that your view isn’t blocked. Similarly, space is reserved for persistent controls, so that if you’re running the music player app, then you’ll be able to keep the play/pause/skip buttons onscreen even if you switch to the calendar, for example.

Time will tell as to whether Web OS takes off, or whether it remains a footnote in mobile history underneath pages and pages about Android. It’s a nice concept, but it’s closed-source, and limited to just one phone. Unless the Pre, or one of its successors, does incredibly well, or Palm allows other manufacturers to use its OS, then I suspect a footnote it’ll remain.

EDIT: Palm’s website for the Pre and Web OS has just gone live. Check it out here.

(via Engadget)

For more news from CES 2009 in Las Vegas, click here.

Duncan Geere