Palm Launches New Phones, Offers Native App Development

So, today at CES, Palm held its big keynote thing. Palm’s CEO, Jon Rubinstein, aided by several others, had a whole lot to talk about for just one hour, and boy, is this good stuff or what. We’ve got a boatload of stuff to talk about: two new phones exclusive to Verizon, tethering, video support, Flash 10, native application development, the official launch of the completely open app distribution model we’ve talked about before, and much more.

Where to start?

Native development

I’d say the native development aspect of the keynote is what’s highest up on most people’s lists. It was no secret that Palm was working on adding some form of OpenGL support to the webOS, but many expected it to be through WebGL or something similar. It turns out, however, that Palm has created a way to code in c and c++ on the webOS. It’s called the Plugin Development Kit, and allows developers to add c and c++ plugins to their applications.

Tier one partners have already had access to this new PDK, and they have already been quite busy. Palm demonstrated several games from Electronic Arts running on the Pre, such as The Sims 3 and Need For Speed. Palm even managed to get Electronic Arts CEO Travis Boatman to make an appearance on stage to talk about the new games they’ve made available on the webOS using the PDK. These games are available starting today, but only for US Pre owners – Pixi owners just got screwed.

The games integrate very well into the webOS. When you switch cards, the game will pause automatically. Notifications will still pop up at the bottom of the screen without interrupting your gameplay. According to people present in the audience, the game splayed “remarkably lag-free“. The PDK will be made available in beta form at the Game Developers Conference in March, with a final release within the first half of this year.

Apple, take notes: Palm’s take on application distribution

Palm also had a lot to say about application distribution. First of all, they officially launched the non-App Catalog way of distributing applications. Developers can send their application to Palm, who will then create a download URL that you can share with others. This process is “review-free”; in other words, Palm doesn’t do any checking, censoring, or whatever.

Secondly, Palm has opened up access to the App Catalog to third parties. By this I mean that third parties can create custom frontends to the App Catalog. Do you want to create a web front-end which shows only applications having to do with unicorns? You can do that – webOS users can then install applications with a single click, sending them to their phones over-the-air. Project Appetite is a demonstration of this idea.

That’s not all, though. Palm also launched its Hot Apps program. They will award the most popular free application (most downloads between February 1, 2010, and May 31, 2010) 100000 USD, and another 100000 USD for the most downloaded paid-for webOS application. The developers of the next 20 applications in each of these two categories receives 10000 USD each, and the next 200 applications 1000 USD each.

Palm also shared some figures with us. The SDK has been downloaded 85000 times since July 2009, and Project Ares has already seen 20000 registrations since its unveiling on December 18 2009. Palm also gave a shout-out to the very active homebrew community. “We are incredibly thankful to those who helped us get here,” said Katie Mitic, VP product marketing at Palm, “Especially those in the homebrew community.”

Classy. A world apart from that other gadget maker who tries to criminalise its homebrew community.

webOS 1.4: video recording, Flash 10.1

The next big thing during the keynote was webOS 1.4, which will hit Pre and Pixi owners coming February. It will bring with it two very important updates: video recording, and Flash 10.1. The former is oddly missing from the Pre and Pixi right now, so it’s about time Palm added this feature.

Flash 10.1 will hit the App Catalog in beta form soon, with the final version part of the webOS 1.4 update. Over at Engadget’s live coverage, they weren’t particularly impressed with the performance of Flash (why am I not surprised), as the Avatar trailer they played on stage was a little stuttery. Maybe the final version will fare better.

Of course, the update will also bring the usual round of performance and battery life improvements, as well as a set of bug fixes.

Pre Plus, Pixi Plus coming to Verzion, includes 5-way tethering

If all that wasn’t enough, Palm also introduced two new phones which will be exclusive to Verizon (in the US, at least): the Pre Plus and the Pixi Plus. The Pre Plus loses its centre button (Pixi-style), and comes with double the amount of RAM and 16GB of storage (instead of 8GB). The Pixi Plus includes wifi (missing from the regular Pixi), and comes in multiple bright colours.

Tethering supportis exclusive to the Plus phones and Verizon. All you need to do is install the Mobile Hotspot application, which will turn your Pre Plus or Pixi Plus into a mobile wireless router, allowing for up to five connected devices at the same time.

Both Plus phones will be available from January 25 onwards. Pricing information as of yet unknown.

Palm is back

This is a massive list of updates and improvements to the webOS platform and ecosystem, taking away many of the complaints people had about the webOS. “We’ve been busy this last year,” Rubinstein concluded the keynote, “I told you Palm was back, and we meant it.”


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