Why Some Developers Think the Palm Pre Could Upstage the iPhone

Will the Palm Pre be the device to challenge not only the coolness, but the functionality and elegance of the iPhone? Some developers respond with a resounding yes. But the big question is whether Palm Pre's WebOS, like Google's Android has a future on devices other than smartphones, such as netbooks.

Will the Palm Pre be the device to challenge not only the coolness, but the functionality and elegance of the iPhone? Some developers respond with a resounding yes.

Ian McFarland, a principal and vice president of technology at Pivotal Labs, which is a consultancy specializing in Web and mobile development, said he first started talking to Palm about the Pre last November, and "we realized it was not just another me-too platform."

McFarland said he grudgingly waited in line to get a glimpse of the Pre at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, "but I came out really impressed," he said.

"It has a first-class user experience, and one thing that stood out for us was the ease of development for the platform because it's based on Web technology-HTML, CSS and JavaScript," McFarland said of the Pre.

For a look at the Palm Pre-up close and personal-click here.

Indeed, the Palm Pre's WebOS operating system and Mojo Software Development Kit (SDK) enable developers to use familiar Web technologies to create applications, without having to learn different languages or technologies.

"That made it easy to build applications quickly and not have them feel like second-class applications," McFarland said, noting that up to now, many of the applications built with Web technology did not come off as rich as those built with native or custom technology.

Moreover, "all the little annoyances I have with my iPhone were made plain," McFarland said. "I really didn't even know I had these 'annoyances,' until I started playing around with the Pre. But it showed me that you are able to really multitask on a mobile phone. Going from e-mail to do something else is a hassle on other devices, but with the Pre you can have different applications open with multiple views. And notifications are handled elegantly. Meanwhile, BlackBerry, the iPhone and all the others have pain points."

"It's got a real multitasking OS [operating system]; Android gets closest, but it doesn't have the ease of use the Pre does."

Added McFarland, "Any time you can look at an iPhone and the Pre device and say this is much better, that's disruptive. It's a beautiful little device," he said of the Pre.

Not only does it provide a good user experience, but it also makes for a good developer experience, McFarland said.

"It has nice developer tools," he said. "And while it's hard to do test-driven development [TDD] on the iPhone and BlackBerry, we like to do TDD and we like how we can do TDD on the Pre. And the fact that it's JavaScript and you're dealing with a scripting-oriented language means you don't have to deal with long compile times. It opens up development to a lot more developers. It's very declarative and has a powerful tool set," McFarland said.

He noted that Pivotal Labs will be responsible for several applications that will be available when Palm makes the Pre generally available to the public, which could be as soon as May. McFarland said Pivotal is creating a Pre application of its own and is working on four other applications under contract with third-party organizations that will ship them under their own brands. Pivotal has 10 developers dedicated to Pre application development, with two additional developers on call to pitch in when needed.