Live blog: Palm keynote at CES

All eyes are on the handheld pioneer to see if it can pull off a comeback.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
7 min read

LAS VEGAS--We're live at the Venetian Ballroom, moments away from the unveiling of the long-awaited new phone platform from Palm.

Palm's Pre preview

Here's a rundown of the basics of the touch-screen smartphone Palm announced at CES Wednesday. For more details, read our summary here.

New WebOS operating system
iPhone-like gestures, multitasking

Slide-out keyboard
Friendlier for e-mail, text?

Exclusive to Sprint
No GSM, no overseas roaming

Price unknown
Cost crucial for competition

10:54 a.m. PST: The consensus sentiment here is that Palm needs a home run if it is to compete with the likes of Apple and RIM.

10:55 a.m.: In very un-Palm-like fashion, the company has managed to keep a tight lid on the details of what it has in store, making this one of the most dramatic moments of the show.

11:00 a.m.: It's a swank room with a video playing on a giant video wall amid dim lights. Chairs are mixed in with wood end tables stocked with Smartwater and another fruity water called Function.

11:02 a.m.: Speech starting. Ex-Appler Jon Rubinstein, Palm's executive chairman, takes the stage. "Some of you are wondering what I am doing here at Palm."

11:03 a.m.: He notes that he moved to Mexico after leaving Apple. One day, he got a call from Elevation Partners' Roger McNamee and Fred Anderson (ex-Apple CEO).

"I was a pretty busy guy in Mexico," he said, showing a picture of himself in a hammock.

11:04 a.m.: He said that Ed Colligan (Palm's CEO) made a compelling pitch to help restore innovation at Palm.

Ed Colligan, Palm CEO
Ed Colligan, Palm CEO Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

11:05 a.m.: Rubinstein intros Ed Colligan.

11:07 a.m.: Colligan notes the company is looking forward. When Palm launched the original Pilot, it wasn't trying to compete with the Newton. "We thought about competing with pen and paper"

"Mobile is in our DNA," Colligan said. "We don't do computers...We don't do refrigerators."

11:08 a.m.: Colligan teases the new stuff, but takes us down Memory Lane. Talking about original Pilot.

11:11 a.m.: Talks about the Treo and how it helped stave off an era where everyone was carrying too many devices. But there's a new problem, he said. That's that information is all over the place: work systems, Gmail, Facebook, etc.

11:12 a.m.: Wouldn't it be nice if your contacts in Outlook showed up with the photos you have of them that are on Facebook? That's what we want to do, he said.

11:13 a.m.: "There are capabilities of it that can't be done on the desktop."

It's called the Palm WebOS.

"It was built with developers in mind." Built on standard Web tools: HTML, Javascript, etc. "No new languages to learn, period."

Jon Rubinstein
Jon Rubinstein, Palm's executive chairman, holding the Pre Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

11:14 a.m.: Talking about how the first device needed to be killer. (well, that's one thing everyone agrees on.)

11:15 a.m.: Bringing Rubinstein on to show first device running the new operating system. Device is the Palm Pre (rhymes with gee)

"The design was inspired by nature." Looks a bit like a shorter, rounder iPhone. Perhaps more similar to HTC Touch in looks.

11:16 a.m.: It's got EvDO rev a, Bluetooth stereo, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Ti's latest OMAP 3430 processor, 8GB storage, GPS.

11:17 a.m.: 3.1 inch display, 320x480 resolution, touchscreen all the way to center button so you can make gestures below the screen.

It has an ambient light sensor, accelerometer, 3.0 megapixel camera with LED flash, speaker and removable battery.

11:18 a.m.: He hasn't shown a pulldown keyboard, but I am expecting that.

11:19 a.m.: And here it is, with a fold-out curved keyboard. "It's great to use touchscreen devices... but sometimes you want to jam out e-mail or an instant message, and one of those cheesy virtual keyboards just wont cut it."

Pre Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

11:20 a.m.: Shows it compared to the shadows of some leading smartphones (looked like an iPhone and a BlackBerry). Anyway, it's smaller.

11:21 a.m.: Now on-stage, Matias Duarte who is demoing the OS in action.

11:22 a.m.: Touch scrolling through content seems quite similar to HTC's Touch and the iPhone, notes CNET phone maven Bonnie Cha, who is sitting next to me.

11:24 a.m.: The new part is the gesture pad below the screen. Swiping backwards takes you back a layer in the user interface. A swipe up brings up an application layer. That part is kind of cool.

11:27 a.m.: Can switch between multiple applications (or activities) by scrolling between activities the way one navigates tabs on the iPhone's Safari browser.

One neat thing is that even as one is switching between applications, they are live.

Pre touchscreen
Pre touchscreen Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

11:28 a.m.: "You just have these cards that you can shuffle and sort," Matias Duarte said.

11:29 a.m.: Contacts list is a single list, but merges multiple types of contacts, such as Outlook, Google, and Facebook.

"I don't get duplicate entries," he says.

(I wonder how it deals with conflicts.)

11:30 a.m.: The same approach is taken to Calendar, where it merges your Google Calendar and your Outlook, color coded for which calendar type it came from.

11:34 a.m.: Synergy (as Palm calls this method of merging multiple data sources) is also used with e-mail. You have the option of viewing e-mail accounts separately. Or you can view a merged box. It will automatically reply from the right e-mail account (or you can specify a different one). Also, when you want to e-mail someone, you get the options of all your contacts, regardless of which account they came from.

11:35 a.m.: This method of merging multiple sources seems very elegant. Some other operating systems offer multiple e-mail accounts, but bringing this to calendars and contacts--especially this smoothly--is pretty cool, as is the elegant way of handling multitasking.

11:36 a.m.: There's also one messaging app for handling IM conversations and text messaging applications in one place.

Applies it to multiple accounts, letting you move a conversation from, say IM to text message, if someone goes offline.

11:37 a.m.: "This allows me to focus on the person, not on the technology," Duarte said.

11:39 a.m.: To search, you just start typing. It will first look for applications or contacts that match the typing. Once it stops finding matches on the device, it will let you search Google, Maps, or Wikipedia.

"This is the fastest way to find anything, on the device or on the Web," Duarte said.

11:40 a.m.: That takes us to the Web browser. Zooming and panning similar to the iPhone.

11:41 a.m.: Can open multiple tabs. Bookmarks show up as icons. Can enter either a search term or Web address in a single bar at the top.

11:42 a.m.: He demos the browser on SFGate.com, scrolls to the bottom with a picture of some little creatures and the headline "Joy of Vole Sex: The critters and lovin' feelings come from hormones they share with humans."

Lots of laughter

11:45 a.m.: Notifications (IMs, alarms, text messages, etc.) show up at the bottom of the screen. Any developer can use them.

11:50 a.m.: Bonnie Cha's take so far: It's a good step for Palm and it's pretty good competition for the iPhone. Plus, it appears to be a CDMA phone, so could offer some hope to those tied to non-AT&T carriers. Also appears to be far more user friendly than Blackberry Storm, she says.

Rubinstein's back. How does Pre charge? Wireless charger called TouchStone that lets you charge by setting it on the paperweight-like charger. No cord.

Wireless charger, TouchStone
Wireless charger, TouchStone Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

11:51 a.m.: Now Rubinstein's doing a recap. Ed Colligan's back, hopefully to offer the when's, who's offering and not least, how much will we have to pay?

11:52 a.m.: "We think it's the one phone you can use for your entire life," Colligan said.

Dan Hesse from Sprint
Dan Hesse from Sprint Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

Exclusive launch partner: Sprint.

Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, being welcomed on stage. (He's the guy in all those commercials).

11:54 a.m.: Hesse talks about how you can be on a call, check your calendar and send an e-mail all at the same time.

11:58 a.m.: He's talking about how great their network is and how much less expensive their plans are.

11:59 a.m.: He's going on and on. Kind of killing the buzz that Palm had built.

Taking pre-registrations now on Sprint's site. Ed's back. Finally.

12:00 p.m.: Pre will be available through Sprint, in the first half of 2009. "We are going to do that as soon as possible.

Still has to be finalized and go through certification, he said.

12:01 p.m.: List of partners: Facebook, Pandora, Google, Amazon.com, MobiTV, TeleNav, AOL and a bunch more I didn't get a chance to write down.

Palm partners
Palm partners Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

12:02 p.m.: Now on stage, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. She notes Facebook now at 150 million users.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

12:05 p.m.: 20.8 million people using Facebook on mobile devices. Facebook likes that, as mobile users are far more active than those who don't use it on their cell phone.

12:06 p.m.: Colligan's back, and we're recapping again. I'll let you all scroll up if you want a recap.

12:06 p.m.: Colligan said he expects hundreds of thousands of developers in the coming months.

12:07 p.m.: Still no price yet.

12:08 p.m.: He's thanking the team. Notes that the entire Palm team is watching in Sunnyvale, as team is shown in a still photo.

12:09 p.m.: "This platform is going to be the basis for innovation for a decade to come," Colligan said.

12:09 p.m.: And the keynote ends, with no price info.

12:20 p.m.: Caught Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies on way out. Said he got his hands on the Pre and said the design is quite slick and the features more robust than he expected. "This at least gets them back in the game."