5 things you didn’t know about the new PALM PRE.

Palm’s designers and engineers reveal some little-known details about the company’s highly-anticipated phone.
During the 15-month gestation of Palm’s new cellphone, the Pre, the company’s designers and engineers drew inspiration from Japanese Zen gardens and grassy fields.

The nature theme extended to the phone’s audio sounds as well. Palm commissioned a new set of ringtones and alerts for the phone, which will be available June 6, and is the first to utilize Palm’s new mobile operating system, webOS. When recording the audio’s base notes, the company opted for actual musicians playing simple instruments like Tibetan bells over synthetic gizmos that generate “electronic blips and bloops,” says Matias Duarte, Palm’s vice president of human interface and user experience.

“We wanted to have tones that would be part of the Pre’s aesthetic whole,” Duarte says. “The phone’s hardware, software and audio experience needed to be coherent.”

In the rapid-fire mobile industry where new products debut–and sometimes vanish–within a year or two, it’s unusual to take such pains with a phone’s ringtone. But for Palm ( PALM – news – people ), which is counting on the handset to revive the company’s fortunes, no element was too small to obsess over. Here are some other lesser-known details about the project from the designers and engineers who worked on it.


Some of the earliest sketches of the Pre referenced eggs. To spark ideas, Peter Skillman, Palm’s vice president of design, distributed large, white ostrich eggs to his designers. One principal designer got a dark blue emu egg.

Read All Comments Pebbles were also an inspiration. Skillman says he kept polished rocks on his desk during the design process. Duarte describes the final product as “a stone at the bottom of a riverbed, rubbed smooth over thousands of years.” Palm wanted consumers to feel the “sense of totemic mystery” that comes with finding something really beautiful in nature, says Duarte.

Palm dipped into nature while developing the Pre’s charger too. Called Touchstone, it employs magnetic induction to power the Pre’s battery without cables or cords. The design also posed a challenge: How could users retrieve their phones from Touchstone without also lifting up the wedge-shaped charger? Palm found the solution in a micro-suction material patterned after geckos’ feet. The technology enables Touchstone to stick to polished surfaces, even walls and windshields, without leaving a mark or collecting dirt.


Early reviews have noted that Palm’s new mobile applications store lags those of rivals like Apple ( AAPL – news – people ), Research In Motion ( RIMM – news – people ) and Google ( GOOG – news – people ), stocking less than 20 apps at launch. Palm says it wants high-quality apps and isn’t concerned about the slow pace. “There’s nothing wrong with fun, throwaway apps, but we’re more interested in apps that people use daily or at least more than once,” says Michael Abbott, Palm’s senior vice president of applications software and services.

Palm has yet to publicly release a webOS software development kit–tools that developers need to build applications for the Pre. Abbott says the company wants to vet developers first. “We always want more developers, but we’re less concerned with the number than making sure we do [the store] correctly.”


Much has been made of Palm’s poaching of Apple talent over the past two years. Executive Chairman Jon Rubinstein is Apple’s former senior vice president of hardware engineering. Mike Bell, Palm’s senior vice president of product development, spent 17 years at Apple before joining Palm in December 2007.

Most transplants declined to compare the two companies. But Palm appears to have embraced Apple’s famously high standards. “We’re the most critical people … we really want the devices to be perfect,” says Bell, adding, “It’s a philosophy some of us carried over from previous companies.”

Like Apple, Palm now seeks to marry engineering with great design. “We don’t just want to be a Silicon Valley tech innovator where design comes in at the end or an idea shop where design is stressed at the beginning but not supported by the engineering or business side,” says Duarte.


It’s easy to understand Sprint ‘s ( S – news – people ) decision to support the Pre. The phone is one of the year’s hottest launches and Sprint needs a new flagship phone to compete with the iPhone, BlackBerry Storm and the new Google Android phones that will soon be available on competing networks. Sprint also likes to talk about its long relationship with Palm. It offered the Treo 600 back in 2003, giving it a longer relationship with Palm than any U.S. operator. Since then, it has frequently been the first carrier to launch new Palm phones.

Despite its history of collaborations, Sprint mostly stayed out of the way with the Pre. Discussions between the two companies focused primarily on which applications to install on the device or offer in Palm’s App Catalog, says David Owens, Sprint’s director of devices.


Palm plans to continue developing webOS over the next 10 years, eventually extending it to a family of devices. Its designers and engineers are currently working on phones that will launch in 2010 and 2011.

People within Palm aren’t focused on making “iPhone killers,” according to Skillman. He adds, “We think there’s room for several significant players in this market and we’re going to be one of them.”

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