There was a glow on the face of every Palm employee we saw today, and deservedly so: the new Palm Pre is a hail mary product. It's probably going to save the company.
And it is, in many ways, better than the iPhone.
Brownlee and I got a little guided tour of a Pre by a beaming executive this evening. (We filmed it; Xeni, Derek, and Wes from the Boing Boing video team are working on it as I write.) But I'm so excited about the product that I wanted to share my enthusiasm before I forgot all the details about why I am so into it in the first place.
• It feels small and pleasant in the hand. Much smaller than the iPhone, but inexplicably the screen seems big enough. Part of that is the lovely interface that Palm has created that echos a little bit of the old Palm OS in font choice and such, but feels wholly new.
It's a little bit longer than a Treo when the keyboard is extended, but the curving bit makes it seem a nice size.
• It runs Linux. SQLlite is the built-in database. Developers will have to use "web technologies" to make most of the apps, but it sounds like there may still be ways to use closer-to-the-metal languages.
• The animations and interface are gorgeous. They are in many ways busier than the iPhone's animations, and clearly largely cribbed from the bouncy, lively way the iPhone OS moves around, but they look really nice when switching from app to app.
• It has the coolest menu bar I've ever seen. The touchpad actually extends about half an inch below the screen, and to bring up the ever-present menu bar, you push up from below to smoosh it onto the screen, where it rests under your thumb like a Gummi worm. It looks really great and really useful. It is the first clear "impress your friends" feature.
• Integration with Facebook and Gmail looks top notch. Here's the part that got me: if you choose to, you can make your contacts list pull live from Facebook, including their selected profile picture, which means every time your friends call you their image will be their latest Facebook profile picture. Not a huge deal, of course, but a wonderful touch.
• There will be an official app store, but you can still load other apps. Probably. Palm isn't quite sure how syncing with a PC will work, but it sounds like you'll be able to load apps from a variety of sources as well as buying them over-the-air from the Palm application store.
• It's got multitouch, Apple patents be damned. We asked if they were afraid of Apple's claimed protectionist patents for multitouch. They would only respond with a confident smile.
What a pleasing thing it is to see a company that had been all but counted out of the smartphone game come storming back into what I suspect will be the lead.
Update: Oh, one more thing: It has system-wide cut-and-paste.