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HP Announces Palm Pre 2, webOS 2.0

Hewlett-Packard has broken is silence on its immediate plans for Palm’s webOS and well-regarded but poorly-purchased smartphone business: the company has formally unveiled webOS 2.0 and revealed that it will begin shipping its first webOS 2.0 device, the Palm Pre 2, this Friday. Except that the phone’s launch will be in France, not the North American market, with the device coming to this side of the Atlantic “in the coming months.”

“With webOS 2.0, we’re advancing the innovations we introduced 16 months ago, expanding the features that make webOS great for consumers, enterprises, and developers,” said former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein, now senior vice president and general manager for HP’s Palm Global Business Unit. “We’ve made tremendous strides since the platform launched, and now we’re taking our biggest leap forward with powerful new features that make it easier to get more things done with your webOS device.”

HP’s webOS 2.0 built on Palm’s previous webOS by integrating “true multitasking,” enabling users to switch between games, email, calendar, Web browsing, and more, without closing out any apps. To help folks manage their activity, webOS 2.0 stacks applications the way people use them, keeping related items together so users can quickly more between them using natural touch gestures. HP’s webOS 2.0 will also support Flash 10.1 Beta, so users can access online Flash-based games and content—unlike devices from a certain Cupertino company.

A new “Just Type” feature enables users to start a message or note without opening an application: users can just start typing and have the text sent along to whatever app they want later on—and Just Type will be open to developer to support in their own applications. A new HP Synergy feature enables users to connect to multiple Web-based services—think email, social networking, Microsoft Exchange, and more—so information from those services automatically appears on the phone “like magic.” webOS 2.0 also features an Exhibition mode that makes time spent on the Touchstone charging dock an aesthetic experience by showing slideshows or other media.

Other features in webOS 2.0 will includes Skype mobile, a new Favorites application, Facebook (with messaging), along with integrated support for accessing documents from Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and Dropbox. The webOS 2.0 Web browser will support more HTML5 features, and businesses (and just savvy individuals) will appreciate integrated VPN technologies.

HP says webOS 2.0 will ship on the Palm Pre 2, but it will also be sent as an over-the-air update to “existing customers” in the coming months.

The Palm Pre 2—going on sale in France this Friday from SFR—will feature a 3.1-inch 320 by 480-pixel multitouch display, a 1 GHz processor, a slide-out physical QWERTY keypad, a five megapixel video-capable camera, integrated GPS, 802.11b/g/ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR wireless networking, 16 GB of integrated storage (15 GB will be user-accessible), and the ability to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five other devices. The Palm Pre 2 will launch on Verizon Wireless in the United States “in the coming months,” but neither HP nor Verizon have been more specific about a date—however, if it were going to land before the end-of-year holidays, they would be saying so now.

The Palm Pre 2—and webOS 2.0—mark the first major update to Palm’s mobile technologies since HP acquired Palm. Although it’s tempting to read HP’s moves with these products as indicative of the company’s future plans, both webOS 2.0 and the Palm Pre 2 more accurately represent products that were already in Palm’s pipeline when the HP acquisition got underway—they’re more of a continuation of Palm’s previous product direction than a sign of how HP plans to leverage Palm’s webOS and intellectual property. For that, we’ll probably have to wait until the first half of 2011.

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