- 17 Feb 09, 16:29 GMT
I've seen two new phones in Barcelona today, and they're both devices on which an awful lot hangs. One may make Google's Android operating system go mainstream, the other could determine whether Palm, one of the pioneers of the PDA, survives into the converged future.
First the G2 - whoops, it's not called that. While the first Android phone, T-Mobile's G1, was heavily branded with the Google name, this time both Vodafone and the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC (also behind the G1) are determined to get their names out there.
So this is the HTC Magic and at first glance, it is just a slightly more elegant version of the G1. What is different is that there is no slide-out keyboard - this time you are entirely dependent on the touchscreen interface, except for a little clutch of buttons at the bottom of the screen.
I only had time for a quick play, but the screen seems pretty responsive and the on-screen keyboard no more of a pain to use than the one on Apple's iPhone. There is a 3MP camera, without a flash, and it's clearly not going to be the phone for someone intent on giving up their digital camera.
But what matters is the software, and the possibilities that the Android platform opens up for developers. As with the G1, it is easy to find your way around the phone, surf the web, and launch applications - I noticed the one I used had apps for Facebook and last.fm.
HTC's Chief Executive Peter Chou and Patrick Chomet of Vodafone performed a double act at the press conference, and while there was some mention of features like Google Streetview, their key message was that this was a simple phone aimed not at the geeks and early adopters but a wider public.
Incidentally, one rather cross correspondent to this blog has commented that we have failed to differentiate between smartphones and the mass market. Well I think the boundary is increasingly blurred. A couple of years ago any phone that could do e-mail was considered "smart", now any handset that can't looks pretty dumb. Now Vodafone wants to convince a broad range of its customers that they need a phone which is, in effect a mini-computer.
Those consumers will also be able to choose a phone made by the company that set the standard for PDAs and early smartphones, then watched as others came along and took the market away. At least they will once Palm's new Pre makes it to Europe, after its American launch in the first half of this year.
The Pre was actually unveiled a few weeks ago but this was my first chance to get my hands on a device that's received rave reviews from the bloggers. Mind you, there was some nervousness on Palm's part about my fat fingers actually touching their sacred object - the company told me that it would rather I let a demonstrator show me round.
But I did get to hold it for a few seconds - long enough to find out that it is both lighter and smaller than you-know-what. Yes the inevitable comparison will be with the iPhone and this does look a worthy competitor.
The touchscreen is if anything even better than that on the iPhone or the HTC Magic - and there's a keyboard just about big enough to be useful without making the device clunky. The Pre also has some of the missing links that are annoying about the iPhone - proper bluetooth, cut and paste, easy switching between applications. What it shares with the Apple device is an under-powered camera - just 3MP again - and a lack of video capture, though that may come. It should eventually have Flash too, following an agreement with Adobe. That means you will be able to play video in a browser window, something you can't do on the iPhone.
So two phones from companies that really need them to be hits for different reasons. Vodafone has failed to hitch its name to any stand-out product lately - the Blackberry Storm has been more of a squall. And for Palm the stakes are much higher - it has developed a whole new operating system for the Pre and if the phone doesn't win plenty of fans, then its makers might not be around in a few years' time.
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