With so much talk about Windows Phone 7, Android, iPhone and even BlackBerry, it's easy to forget about the once champion and still cult hero that is the Palm Pre and its webOS. The mobile software is still around and as strong as ever, even if the Pre itself has been surpassed, or at least upgraded and lightened here and there, with the Pre Plus, the Pixi and Pixi Plus too.
Palm went through some torrid times a few months back, but now it's emerged baby-phoenix like under the ownership of computer giant HP, and its first sniff of the air since comes in the form of an upgrade to that famous mobile software. Yes, it's time to meet webOS 2.0. Here's what we can expect.
webOS has offered full and proper mulitasking from the off, with its card and shuffle based app switching system, but what the 2.0 version adds to the equation is a neater way of categorising them into stacks. So, rather than having a roll of windows to scan through as long as your arm, instead they'll all be bundled into similar groups which then expand into sub cards as you get to them. Rather reminiscent of some desktop OSes out there.
One advantage of having a hard QWERTY keyboard is that you don't have to call it up to start using it, and that's one area that HP/Palm is leveraging in webOS 2.0. Just Type is a quick start feature that encourages the user to just start typing whatever it is that they're looking to do - start an e-mail, text message, a search enquiry, status update - and it'll begin that action. Just Type will also be open to app developers to create what are called Quick Actions, which will activate aspects of application software without having to open and search for the desired function first.
The original webOS Synergy allowed users to log in to popular services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Microsoft Exchange and Yahoo! accounts and have all of their information populated across their Palm handsets. HP is, of course, not going to do any damage to what was one of the best features of the mobile software, and will extend Synergy to allow developers to plug more messaging, contacts and calendar app sources in as well.
Exhibition is a brand new feature that will bring specific functions to both universal applications and also activate entirely specialised apps as soon as you lay your Palm phone down to rest on the magnetic induction charging pad; that is the Touchstone dock. The sorts of things in mind are calendars, special photo galleries and clock functions, but with any luck there'll be a few lighter minded developers out there coming up with interesting ways to get gaming, music and video watching involved as well.
Full web browsing
With both iOS and Windows Phone 7 not interested in Adobe Flash, HP has taken the opportunity to do as Android has done and adopt the standard to offer full web browsing. So, the webOS browser will support the beta of Adobe Flash Player 10.1. At the same time, the browser will be up to date with HTML5 features too, including geolocation support and OpenSearch plugin support to make it easy to add your favourite websites to Just Type web searches.
webOS 2.0 allows users to tag certain contacts as their favourite ones. Obviously this isn't unlike what a number of more basic mobile platforms have been doing for a while, but the difference is that these contacts do more than appear at the top of your phone numbers' list. Provided you have all the info for these people, their details will also turn up at the top of email apps, messaging apps and other appropriate contacts-based apps as well. All the way across the software where possible, in other words.
Skype Mobile (Verizon only)
In the same way as used to be the case before Skype went official on Android, Verizon in the US is offering Skype Mobile on the webOS 2.0 handsets, which will offer Skype to Skype calls and IM for free as well as low rates to non-Skype numbers.
Another area of general improvement is going to be in text input all the way across the phone. The QWERTY is obviously a great start, but expect more in the realm of auto-correct, spell check, being able to customise the dictionary and setting up macros as well.
Quick Office Connect Mobile Suite
There are few things more annoying than downloading an attachment and not being able to open the thing. At the same time, the thought of installing a bunch of paid-for apps to cover all the bases is more than a little tedious as well. In reply, HP has come up with a piece of installed software which will act as a universal document viewer for Microsoft Office apps, Google Docs, Dropbox, PDFs and others as well.
Facebook is obviously a big part of people's communicating lives, so HP has ensured that the service will work with all the new features it's built for webOS 2.0 by coming up with an improved Facebook 2.0 app for the App Catalogue app store. As a result, it will work with Synergy, Exhibition, Stacks and the Quick Actions as well.
The native messaging app will be much the same on webOS 2.0, but Yahoo! IM users will be pleased to note that this service has been added to the compatible collection along with Google Talk, AIM and standard SMS and MMS as well.
webOS 2.0 will support all the most popular ways to connect to a corporate network, including IPsec and Cisco AnyConnect mobile optimized VPN, which supports SSL (TLS and DTLS). The idea is that you'll feel safe and sound while operating your business from your phone and you shouldn't need to carry a separate work mobile as well - unless you want to bill all your personals to work, of course.
There have always been plenty of home-brew apps for Palm devices, but one of the big criticisms of the platform has been that there just isn't enough going on officially in the App Catalogue. The interface has been redesigned for webOS 2.0 complete with a new software manager to look after your downloads. Whether or not HP has any strategy for attracting more developers, we'll have to wait and see.
On top of the larger changes, there's also a new app launcher, which lets you add, re-order and name; support for Bluetooth keyboards and peripherals; an Accounts app to manage your Synergy credentials and a redesigned Phone app.
When's it coming?
webOS 2.0 debuts on the Palm Pre 2 which comes out in France first on SFR on 22 October; shortly followed by a launch on Verizon in the US and Canada as well. HP has also said that existing customers will be able to upgrade its software in the coming months with no dates or details as yet. We'll keep you posted.