I hadn’t realized until very recently that the not-yet-released Palm Pre is wholly implemented using not much more than Webkit and HTML technologies. The entire platform is called WebOS, but it’s little more than a shell that is designed to run Webkit. This is an ingenious move in creating a smartphone, for a few reasons.
First, Webkit is open-source and is actively developed. This means that Palm can get new bleeding-edge technology into their phones solely by upgrading to the latest version of Webkit rather than having to develop the technology themselves. In this arena, their singular hardware goal should be to provide the best environment possible to run Webkit.
Second, since all applications are based upon Webkit and HTML, there are already millions of developers that understand your platform. Development tools? You don’t have to write those, it’s all just HTML. This is a significant cost-savings over proprietary platforms, and will serve to quickly grow the application suite that is available for the Pre.
Is the browser-only OS really viable? Certainly – the web world has already created solutions to a very large number of problems with a browser-only OS. Offline databases? There’s support for that in HTML 5. What about a 2D/3D graphics API? Canvas provides 2D support, and 3D support can be built in (and a canvas spec for 3D graphics is in the works, so it will eventually be a moot point in any case). Multithreading? Again, HTML 5 has support for worker threads.
To this end, I’m willing to bet there are more than a few mobile phone makers that are envious of the sheer simplicity and elegance of the Pre platform. Here is a video of a Palm exec talking about the technology behind the Pre at Google I/O. Skip to about 3 minutes in to hear just the Pre segment, which is well worth the time to watch.