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Palm Fleshes Out Legacy App Strategy for the Pre

Palm Pre
Palm's announcement of an OS emulator for its highly anticipated Palm Pre has some industry watchers giving the move a thumbs-up for working to increase the upcoming smartphone's appeal.

But at least one naysayer disagrees, calling it "a last resort offering."

MotionApps is creating an emulator application that will allow the Pre to run most applications designed for Palm's earlier operating system, called Palm OS. The emulator, called "Classic," will be available for purchase when the Palm Pre phone becomes available from Sprint in the first half of 2009.

For its part, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) appears to be positioning the emulator as a tool to facilitate the switch to its new mobile platform webOS, saying "it gives users peace of mind as they transition."

Since Palm OS applications running in Classic won't be able to leverage core webOS functionality, Palm said it is working with partners to ensure that popular Palm OS applications are made available on the webOS platform. In the meantime, the emulator is aimed at providing provide Palm users the opportunity to use Palm OS-compatible apps on the Pre.

While some observers say this is a bonus for the Palm Pre, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said the move has limited advantages.

"A Palm OS emulator will only make sense for enterprise business applications. If Palm thinks that consumers will want to run legacy Palm applications, they need to think again," Dulaney told InternetNews.com. "If this means that Palm is trying to shore up their application offerings to consumers by bringing these over, they need to reassess. They need new, fresh applications that are designed to compete against iPhone. It's a nice thing to do but it shouldn't be anything but a last-resort offering."

Palm, meanwhile, is sticking to its guns, indicating that the emulator serves a key purpose in paving the road for future applications.

"The emulator is great for all those people with a library of old apps they will still want to use, but we're also coming out with new apps for webOS with lots of partners," a Palm spokesperson told InternetNews.com. "For instance, Pandora, Fandango, SprintTV, and with the SDK we're seeing lots of developer interest. Palm will also have its own mobile app store, too, so we'll definitely be competitive in this space."

Pre's ship date remains a mystery

Despite plenty of buzz in the industry, Palm is still mum on any specific release information for the Pre, although it's maintaining that the smartphone is still on its way.

"Palm is still on track to deliver Pre by the middle of this year," a company spokesperson told InternetNews.com.

The news comes at a time when industry observers are looking to gauge Palm's ability to make a comeback following years of slow declines -- while rivals like Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone made inroads into the mobile device and smartphone spaces.

Much of the industry will be watching how Palm fares with the Pre, as many observers have said the company's fate is virtually tied to whether it can successfully introduce the device to the market on time -- and if the Pre line has what it takes to succeed over the long term.

There's a lot of catching up to do - RIM just last week posted impressive earnings for the third quarter, beating estimates across the board, and opened its BlackBerry App World, while the iPhone continues to dominate market share.

Still, Palm continues to gain momentum, with positive first-look impressions from reviewers and analysts.

In other Palm news, the company is opening its Mojo Software Development Kit (SDK), used by developers to integrate their applications into core webOS functionality, on a limited basis with general availability slated for later this year.

"Developers are an incredibly important part of the webOS ecosystem, and we're eager to get the SDK into their hands," Michael Abbott, senior vice president of Palm's application software and services unit, said in a statement. "Now that the SDK will be available to a broader base of developers, we think the enthusiasm for webOS will only grow and accelerate."