Palm kicks off its European developer conference in Munich this week with details of a new release of its Cobalt OS. Cobalt 6.1 will feature new GSM and 802.11 APIs, a revamped browser based on NetFront's core, and a new IDE based on the open source Eclipse Project.
Cobalt is the ground-up revision of the Palm OS, the result of Palm's acquisition of Be Inc's staff in August 2001, and it solves many of the long-standing complaints about process management and memory management. It also gave the company the chance to start afresh with new security, and audio and video frameworks.
Although the older version of the OS, Garnet, lives on, PalmSource confirmed that no Cobalt phones will appear this year. The OS first shipped, without much fanfare, to licensees in December, and since then a 6.01 update has appeared. Devices were expected in Q3, or round about now.
But integration has taken longer than expected, and the first new phones won't appear until the first quarter of next year. According to PalmSource, eleven phones are under development. The longer-than-expected delay has prompted PalmSource to bundle communications stacks with the OS and to develop more ready to run applications for licensees.
"There's been a certain wait-and-see. They've taken a little longer and been more cautious," PalmSource product marketing manager John Cook told us.
Integration issues have dogged all the major smartphone platform vendors. Cook confirmed that the delay had contributed to PalmSource's decision to bundle applications and focus on speeding time-to-market for licensees.
"It's taking a certain period of time to move off the OS they know, from Garnet," he told us. "It depends on how much effort and IP they put into doing their own custom applications.
Cobalt 6.1 also features modern graphics effects such as TrueType font support, translucent windows and drop shadows.
The new browser features "squeeze rendering", which PalmSource claims is more flexible than Opera's Small Screen Rendering, and support for tabbed browsing. Cook said the OS can be squeezed into 32MB of RAM, and 32MB of ROM or NAND flash memory. There's no 3G support as of yet.
PalmSource will be gunning for ODMs and stressing ease of use. The company's battle-hardened evangelist Michael Mace claims that today's smartphones aren't user friendly enough, and he has a point. Microsoft's Smartphone OS carries too many desktop legacies to feel truly native on a handheld, Nokia's Series 60 requires far too many button presses to accomplish the simplest tasks, and Symbian's slick UIQ is only really usable with third party software. But it won't be drawn into a feature race with Microsoft or Symbian, which announced a real-time OS in February.
"We'll never win the features war against a Symbian or a Microsoft and we don't intend to play that game," he told us. With network operators and manufacturers alike waiting for that great mythical creature "Mobile Data" to appear, making a phone easy to use easy to use isn't a bad strategy. ®
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