posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 9th Jan 2009 11:34 UTC
IconThe Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is filled to the brim with product announcements and new useful (and useless) gadgets, but some stand out more than others. One item that topped the headlines the past few days is Palm's announcement of its brand new operating system.

Palm's announcement of its new WebOS and the accompanying pré model phone sure made its ripples across the pond that is the internet. While the phone hardware itself is pretty ugly (at least, in my opinion) the real meat here is of course the brand new operating system, for which applications can be written using nothing but CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. Yes, it's Linux based, and no, it doesn't run PalmOS 5.x applications.

What is really intriguing though is the new interface, which takes everything that's good about the iPhone, and brings it to a whole new level by doing away completely with the application-centric paradigm that the iPhone still employs. The fact that smartphones today are all application-centric shows where their software comes from and where their roots lie: the desktop operating system.

Palm is changing all this with its card-based interface, where the application is irrelevant - it's all about the task. For instance, if you want to chat with a contact, you just open a chatcard with that user, and it will combine the communications over SMS and IM in a single conversation, moving away from the idea that you need the IM application to IM, and the SMS application to send text messages. It's the content that matters, not the medium.

Cards can be switched in an alt-tab like implementation, and you can switch between cards in a coverflow-like fashion, or zoom out and see an overview. It follows the paradigm of a card deck: new cards enter the "hand" from underneath, and by flicking them to the top, they are closed.

Ars' Jon Stokes had the opportunity to talk with Palm's Pam Deziel, who showed off the device in this eight minute video (many thanks to Ars for allowing everyone to embed the video):

Ars Technica first hands-on with the Palm pré phone from Ars Technica on Vimeo.

To me, it seems as if Palm is the first smartphone manufacturer to develop an interface from the ground up specifically for a mobile device, without windows, applications, or other desktop-centric ideas. Oh, and it does copy/paste. While it's dangerous to make any such statements, I do believe that Palm has out-Appled Apple on this one: the iPhone already feels hopelessly kludgey and outdated.

Availability is set for the first half of 2009. The pré is a Sprint exclusive.

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