Despite the Palm Pre being the biggest news to come out of CES, I hadn’t really given it much attention, apart from the occasional headline or photo. I mean, it’s Palm, nothing good has come out from there in years!
And then I watched the CES Pre introduction video (here), and I have to say it: Wow. Sure, the device might be clunky, the battery life is uncertain, animations left a bit to be desired, and 3rd-party app development is something of a question mark, but what blew me away was how the Pre just nails the workflow. Everything is connected into one seamless experience, from messaging to the internet to notifications. Jumping from one activity to the next is effortless, and the information is always there.
It’s obvious that Palm went back to square one and threw away absolutely everything: not only their own technology, but also every preconception about how a mobile device should work. The Pre redefines the mobile workflow in such a way that it makes the iPhone look as archaic in design as the iPhone did its predecessors. This is the way a “personal digital assistant” should work!
It borrows heavily from the iPhone in some areas, like the device button layout, or the scrolling and zooming gestures, but then leaps forward and disposes of all the traditional mobile clutter. The gesture area, the ‘Card Deck’ concept, Synergy, and above all, the inobtrusive notification system shift the focus from managing applications to flowing through activities. In some cases during the demo, it wasn’t even clear where one application ended and another started: they were all seamlessly inter-connected.
Granted, these were just some of Palm’s first-party apps; it remains to be seen how well the third-party ones fit into the experience. But with Apple’s comparatively weak push notification system still MIA, Palm’s bold new design looks very promising indeed.
It also remains to be seen if Apple will be able to match or surpass the innovations found in the Pre; the iPhone is due for a refresh around the same time the Pre will be available. One thing’s for sure, however: competition is never a bad thing.
Will I buy a Pre? Probably not; it’s not even going to be available outside the US for quite a while anyway (due to EVDO), not to mention I’d be loath to go back to carrying a stand-alone iPod.
But it’s the first true innovation in the mobile space since Macworld 2007, and that’s exciting. Apple, your move.