Palm webOS on the Palm pre: PLEASE let it be WebKit

Just a few minutes ago, Palm announced their new pre device (that’s the name “pre”, I don’t mean it as in “preview” or beta). The device looks solid, like any state of the art mobile handset in the 21st century should. They’ve managed to innovate on the hardware, so it doesn’t look like a cookie cutter rebrand of HTC (cough..G1….cough).



courtesy of http://arvino.posterous.com

The big news for me was the Palm webOS… though its a bit like “Back to the Future”… Back in 1999, the Palm VII device launched with something known as Palm Query Applications (PQAs) – little compiled bits of HTML and images, as front-end local forms for submitting to remote web applications. It was a brilliant hack for the extreme low bandwidth of the Mobitex network.

Quick aside on my areas of expertise: I developed ThinAirMail, a POP/IMAP/Hotmail client for the Palm VII, that was the #1 PQA application for a long time, and eventually included in the box. This led to the acquisition of ThinAirApps, the mobile software company I helped found in 2001 by Palm. I worked there for about two years, until someone decided (probably correctly) that Palm shouldn’t be in the server software development business.

This new webOS echoes this approach, but is much more forward looking, and in fact completely inline with my own personal view of the world… it is a Mobile Web Client Stack. If you read this blog at all, you’ll have seen my previous posts on using PhoneGap to build “native” client applications for iPhone and Android using nothing more than XHTML, CSS and Javascript wrapped in a simple launcher. While I am happy that all the great Obj-C, Cocoa and Java developers have work in this mobile world, there is no need for mobile device development to be so difficult and proprietary.

The four zillion billion dollar question for Palm is, have you chosen wisely in the foundation of your Web OS? Pleeeeeaase, let the answer be “Yes, my son, WebKit is thy name.” At the least, tell me Gecko or Opera… I know standards are standards, but if this Web OS is built on yet another hacky mobile browser whose ancestry traces back to Access or Blazer, I am not going to be as thrilled as I am right now. WebKit is leading the way in amazing standards support, as well as adding the latest and great enhancements from HTML 5 (database, animations, transitions, etc). These are already shipping with iPhone OS 2.2, and lemme tell you – the things you can do with them will blow you away.

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