WebOS may be an outstanding platform, but any OS is only as good as the applications that run on it. Palm’s OS has gotten off to a sluggish start in terms of sheer number of third-party software: The Pre Plus’s App Catalog store currently offers a little over 1500 programs. That’s approximately one percent as many as are in Apple’s iPhone App Store and five percent as are available for Android.
I judged the apps available for the Pre Plus mostly by searching for them and downloading them as my needs and desires demanded. WebOS has Facebook (albeit a much more basic version than is available on the iPhone). It’s got Foursquare and Evernote. Slacker, my favorite Internet radio service, hit WebOS last month. Twee doesn’t rival the iPhone Twitter-client masterwork Tweetie, but it’s at least as good as any Twitter client I’ve found for Android. Google’s Web-based Google Voice client only sort of worked–I couldn’t play back voicemail–but then I discovered that I like a third-party Google Voice client called gDial Pro better than Google’s own program for Android. A bunch of 3D games have recently become available for the Pre and Pre Plus; I tried EA’s Monopoly and found it identical to the iPhone version. (Except for the price: It’s $6.99 on Palm’s phones and $4.99 on the iPhone.)
In short, the App Catalog doesn’t remotely rival the bountiful supply of outstanding apps available for the iPhone, but it’s not an unmitigated disaster, either. And it feels closer to Android in terms of availability of good stuff than the raw numbers suggest. The biggest gaps are in arcane-but-useful areas. With the iPhone, for instance, you can choose from multiple apps designed to help you ride your way through Disneyland and Disney World without waiting too long in line. WebOS, doesn’t even have one such program.
One usability quibble: I don’t understand why the App Catalog returns search results sorted by rating rather than name–which frequently leaves the app you searched for somewhere other than at the top of the list:
Finally, there’s the question of Palm itself. It’s a smallish outfit competing against giants like Apple and Google, and its faces its share of challenges. Should phone shoppers ponder the state of the company as they consider buying a Pre Plus?
Sure, because the Web OS platform needs a critical mass of handset sales to thrive: The more phones that Palm sells, the more incentive developers have to get excited. The arrival of WebOS devices on Verizon is good news in this regard. So will be their arrival on AT&T later this year. More WebOS phones would help, too–I don’t want Palm to dump the Pre and Pixi models for a more iPhone-like design, but a full-touch keyboardless model with a higher-resolution screen would be a nice addition to the lineup.
Among tech pundits, predicting doom and gloom for Palm is a national pastime of long standing. (Here’s one typical story declaring it to be toast. It dates from early 2003, before the company made phones at all.) I’m not going to make any predictions here about the fate of the company and its products, but I do know this: I very much want WebOS and WebOS phones to do well in the marketplace. Palm has one of the best mobile operating systems on the planet, and it’s making some nice phones.
The Pre Plus isn’t perfect, but there’s an awful lot of fresh thinking packed inside its diminutive case. It’s one of the handful of phones I’d suggest as a contender to almost anyone who’s in the market for a new smartphone.