Smartphone OS smackdown: WebOS vs. the world

WebOS needs to beat -- not meet -- Apple iPhone, Google Android , Microsoft Windows Mobile, RIM BlackBerry and Symbian S60

Third-party stuff: Palm's store for downloadable apps is launching with only a handful of programs, including ones for Pandora's music service, LinkedIn's business network, and the Fandango movie-ticket store. For the sake of early Pre buyers, let's hope that a meaningful number of developers jump on the WebOS bandwagon soon. (Motion App's Classic app emulates the old Palm OS and lets some programs run, but not every app works--and those that do work can't hide the fact that they were written for an OS that dates to the mid-1990s.)

Bottom line: WebOS boasts more fresh ideas than any new operating system since iPhone OS;, and once you've used cards to leap between multiple running apps, it's hard to go back to anything less. Let's hope that WebOS helps propel Palm back to robust health--and that the company puts the OS on a range of phones aimed at different kinds of folks.

RIM BlackBerry OS

What it is: This software powers RIM's BlackBerry smart phones, including stalwarts such as the Curve, Pearl, and 8800, as well as the newer Bold and Storm models.

How it works: The basic concepts behind the BlackBerry interface have changed remarkably little in a decade. And why should they? In its own way, the BlackBerry interface is just as logical and consistent as the iPhone's: On most models you perform virtually every function in every application with a trackball, a Menu button, and a button that lets you back out to the previous screen. Master those three actions, and you can whip around the OS with extreme speed. (The Storm replaces the standard BlackBerry controls with an iPhone-style touch interface that has garnered a lukewarm critical response.)

How it looks: The BlackBerry OS is fairly mundane and text-centric, though recent models such as the Bold dress it up with crisper fonts and slicker icons.

Built-in applications: The BlackBerry's e-mail and calendaring applications still set the standard for efficient design and reliable real-time connectivity with widely used messaging systems such as Microsoft Exchange. The Bold introduces a much-improved new browser that rivals those associated with iPhone OS, Android, and WebOS in its ability to display sites as their designers intended; BlackBerry music and video apps are serviceable enough but still secondary to the productivity tools.

Third-party stuff: Once upon a time, users didn't have many BlackBerry programs to choose from, but recently the market has boomed. Thousands--from productivity apps to games--are available now. Many, but not all, are available via RIM's new App World software service. Windows Mobile and S60 have even more bountiful selections, though.

Bottom line: The BlackBerry OS is an old dog, but a smart one--and one that is proving itself capable of learning new tricks. It will be interesting to see whether the upcoming Storm 2 does a better job of bringing a touch interface to the BlackBerry experience than the first Storm did.

Former PC World editor in chief Harry McCracken now blogs at his own site, Technologizer.

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Tags smartphoneswebOSsymbianiPhoneGoogle AndroidWindows MobilePalm PreRIM BlackBerry

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Harry McCracken

PC World (US online)
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