Today at The WallStreet Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference, Jon Rubinstein, Palm’s executive chairman, and Roger McNamee, Palm’s director and co-founder of Elevation Partners announced some brand, spanking new features for Palm’s new webOS, the operating system that will power the Palm Pre when it launches on Sprint in the US on June 6. So, will it be THAT good? Here’s the scoop:
Palm Media Sync: This feature will let you do a variety of things including:
- Sync with… wait for it… iTUNES so that you can play music on your Pre! An important point to note – you’ll only be able to transfer and play DRM free music on the Pre AKA- none of the protected songs you downloaded from the iTunes store. To do this, all you need to do is connect the Pre to a PC or Mac via the sync cable. This is a cool feature for people who don’t want to carry around an ipod and a mobile phone, but it would have been even cooler if it didn’t involve a sync cable.
- Use your Pre as a mass storage device sot hat you can use it as an external drive with your computer. This will make it easy for you to drag and drop files to and from your computer and side load apps, photos, music, etc. you’ve downloaded via your computer to your mobile phone. You can also drag the DRM-free songs you purchase from the on-device Amazon MP3 store back to your computer.
The only downside I can see with this great feature is that it is a wired solution… i.e. you’ve got to use a sync-cable. Here’s hoping Palm quickly figures out a way to make this work over Bluetooth or wifi.
Twitter in Universal Search
Palm integrated Twitter into webOS’s universal search. Universal search is a great feature because it allows you to search across your device… Search for a contact, an app, a place you want to visit, information on Wikipedia, or the Twittersphere all from one place, and the Pre figures out exactly what you’re looking for.
Integrating Twitter was a smart for Palm. It will make searching real-time information easier for users, but it will also fuel conversations on Twitter and presumably make them more relevant. I can’t help but wonder if / how much it cost Palm to license the Twitter API for the Pre. Twitter limits the number of API calls any app can make in an hour, so they must have worked out some sort of arrangement. When the Pre goes live, chances are that Palm will far exceed the standard number of calls Twitter allows.
Palm also showed conference attendees a beta version of Palm’s new App Catalog, which will feature apps from AP News, Citysearch, Fandango, Pandora and uLocate. The beta version of the catalog is due to launch with the device on June 6th. Here’s hoping it also includes robust social features. I would love to see a Twitter client like Gravity available on the Pre.
Launching the App Catalog in beta mode is a good move. Note my post from a couple of days ago, in which I suggested Nokia should have launched the Ovi Store as a “beta”. It looks like Palm is on the same page and doesn’t want to call anything ready until it’s been tested by the masses. This could mean that they want feedback. It could also mean that the App Catalog is not exactly – er – ready. Pre owners – brace yourselves for hiccups, dive in, and have a blast being part of the beta process.
Rubinstein and McNamee showed off Fandango’s new webOS app, which leverages LBS to help users find nearby theatres, lets users watch trailers and gives them the ability to buy tickets from the Pre. It also lets you add show times to your calendar and get directions to the theatre… I like this end-to-end integrated approach… little details that haven’t been easy with similar apps on other platforms.
I also like how the Pre has the ability to run apps in the background. The iPhone can’t (or doesn’t) do that. The Pandora app Palm showcased runs in the background as you’re completing other tasks on your device, but there’s a useful notification bar present that shows you the song that’s playing and allows you to control play and pause, without having to go back to the Pandora app.
With just over a week before launch, WebOS and the Pre are looking good. That said, looks aren’t everything. Graceful and swift execution is critical. Competition is clipping at Palm’s heels even before the Pre is launched. To lift Palm out of its current slump and defend Palm against the likes of the next generation iPhone and the G2, the Pre will need to be more than good. It’ll need to be outstanding – both from a hardware and software perspective. The software will need to stand up to the scrutiny of real consumers -not just geeks, and the hardware will need to be rock-solid – not just in the short term but for at least the first year and half that the device is on the market… With this ‘Hail Mary’ pass, Palm and Sprint will need to deliver a stellar device that isn’t prone to the kind of quirks that plagued early Treos (i.e. random re-starting, freezing, paint rubbing off, etc).
I’m still trying to get my hands on a Pre for a heavy hands-on test. For now, I remain cautiously optimistic. I’m looking forward to taking this device for a real test drive!