CES: Inside Palm's and AMD's Comeback Plans

Facing staggering odds, both the handset maker and chip vendor map out their plans to retake the spotlight.

LAS VEGAS -- If Donny and Marie can make a comeback in Las Vegas, why can't Palm and AMD? Both companies have been kicked around by formidable competitors over the last couple of years, yet each brought a confident attitude and cool new products to Thursday's opening of the Consumer Electronics Show.

The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show kicks off amid a tighter economic climate and sluggish consumer spending. But that's only encouraged vendors to talk up their latest new devices and to roll out new services galore.

The bigger newsmaker -- and, except possibly Microsoft's Windows 7, the biggest story of this year's CES -- is the debut of Palm's Pre smartphone and WebOS platform. The Pre may not have the corporate appeal of RIM's BlackBerry, but it has the style and swagger to bump Apple's iPhone from its throne as the coolest gotta-have-it gadget on the market.

At yesterday's press event, Ed Colligan, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) president and CEO, harked back to the pioneering PalmPilot, noting, "We didn't design the PalmPilot to compete with the [Apple] Newton; we designed it to compete with pencil and paper." That striving for simplicity and transparency shows in what Colligan called "a breakthrough new platform and product," boasting that Pre "is going to redefine the center of your life on the Internet" with "capabilities that can't even be done on the desktop [PC]."

Weighing 4.8 ounces and slightly smaller than its Apple and RIM competitors, the new smartphone is elegantly designed, with a touch screen that extends below its 3.1-inch, 320 by 480-pixel display to make room for navigation gestures. Its slide-out QWERTY keyboard gives the Pre a slight, comfortable-to-hold curve when opened.

Tailor-made for its exclusive carrier Sprint's unlimited data plan, the Pre more or less lives on the Web 24/7, pulling a friend's image from Facebook and home phone number from Google into her contact entry or mixing data from social networking sites with info from a corporate Exchange database.

Start typing a name, and the Pre will offer to complete it by winnowing all addresses from all of your e-mail accounts. If, say, you continue past Jo (possibly Joanne Smith) then Jon (possibly Bill Jones) to Jonas Brothers (not found on the device), the Palm offers links to Google and Wikipedia searches on the topic.

The WebOS interface also eliminates chores such as needing to save a draft of an e-mail before switching to the browser or some other application. The flick of a finger lets you shuffle through on-screen "cards" or activities, represented not as icons or images -- as with, for instance, HP's TouchSmart PCs -- but scaled-down screens of live applications. And with the ability to write WebOS programs with standard CSS, HTML, and JavaScript instead of, say, waiting for Apple to release an iPhone software development kit (SDK), Palm expects developers to release plenty of Pre applications soon. The company says that Pandora's developers needed only three days to port the Internet radio application to the Pre.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.

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