Digital Comics
The Palm Pre - The New Smartphone for Web Comics
By Hervé St-Louis
May 12, 2009 - 21:17

Palm, Inc., that ingenious American personal assistant maker that was all the craze in the late 1990s is back in the game with its announced Palm Prē. The Palm Pre which rumour has it will be released on June 7, 2009 has already been touted as the iPhone killer. The real question for the comic book industry is whether or not Web comic readers will quickly embrace this new smartphone.

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The Palm Prē has not been touted as the industry shaker and iPhone killer for no reason. Even if it doesn’t dethrone the iPhone in sales, it will change how the game is played. And to be fair, the iPhone does have two solid years of sales that the Palm Prē just won’t have. Palm, Inc., based in Sunnyvale California is not new to innovation. It created the venerable Palm Pilot way back in 1996 which allowed users to store personal information on a small device that could also connect to a computer. Palm also encouraged developers to create applications running on the Palm operating system. But competition for the personal assistant market grew fiercer as Microsoft entered the field and introduced Windows CE, allowing any personal assistant maker to create pocket-sized computers running a version of the popular Microsoft operating system. Even Apple’s Newton did meet failure at the time.

Palm had no choice but to embrace the Windows CE operating system in its newer products. But this did not stop the company from creating one of the early smartphones of the industry. The Palm Treo combined aspects of the personal assistant with a phone. Several instances of Treos, and a lot of competition from new productivity smartphone leader BlackBerry and internal strife within the company crippled it and it lost its market lead. If the Palm Prē fails, the company may cease to exist.


For the comic book industry, the Palm Prē offers several features which will make Web comics fans that like to view strips on portable devices very happy. The Palm Prē’s Web browser is faster and more useful than the iPhone's, the BlackBerry's or even my good old Nokia N800's. The Palm Prē multitasks. That means Web comics viewers can view a Web comic strip online while using Twitter or texting friends. The basic platform to develop applications for the Palm Prē is JavaScript, which is easier to master than C, which is required for iPhone applications. Development times should be shortened and existing Web applications will be easily portable for the Palm Prē. Adobe has already announced that the Palm Prē will get its own Flash player, which means that many existing Web comics solutions which were developed in Flash, such as Marvel Digital and Zuda Comics from DC Comics, will be easily viewed and customized for the Palm Prē public.
Many Web comics readers readily embraced the iPhone, but that came with several barriers and hurdles in the form of Apple and its domineering attitude toward developers and its customers. A lot of people that thought the iPhone was cool did not hop on the bandwagon because of Apple itself. It’s not all it’s made out to be as a cool company. There is also an existing user base familiar with Palm. While those who come from the Treo may have bad memories about Palm, older users from the Palm Pilot days probably have found souvenirs of the company and its opened approach to applications development and its users.


Web comics are already proving to be quite successful online and their integration with Web mobile devices is one of the features that connect them with a more diverse audience. While many Web comics readers will be satisfied to simply connect with the iPhone crowd, they would be mistaken to forfeit the Palm Prē crowd which is sure to develop even faster than the iPhone crowd. Why is that? Well for one thing, the market for Web comics is much more solid than it was last year and the barriers to convince users to adopt a Web reader for their smartphone will take much less convincing than a year ago.

Smartphones users know what to expect from their phones and contents providers. Smart developers who understand that, will surely realize the potential associated with providing a Web comics reader for the Palm Prē.

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