Palm Inc has launched a touchscreen smartphone along with a brand-new WebOS operating system and an "intelligent" cohesive contact management setup Palm calls Synergy.

The Palm Pre will be an EvDO 3G smartphone with a 3.1in 320x480 touchscreen that can recognise gestures as well as individual taps. In contrast to Apple iPhone, it will have a slide-down Qwerty keypad to make text entry easier "rather than a cheesy software keyboard". However, in common with the iPhone, a two-fingered pinch is used to zoom in and out of photos and web pages.

The Pre is slightly curved to make its use as a phone more comfortable than some of the application heavy but bulky handsets with which it will be competing. It weighs a scant 4.8oz and can be used both single-handedly or with two hands for easier text entry. A distinguishing element is that the Pre's touchscreen extends to below the screen area to a 'gesture area' where you can swipe a finger left or right to move forwards or backwards through web pages, emails and music or photo libraries.

Palm PreThe Palm Pre supports 802.11b and g Wi-Fi, has a 3Mp camera with a flash and has an 8GB internal memory. It will have a T1 4350 processor and a built-in GPS receiver with turn-by-turn navigation. This will be provided by Telenav.

It will also have a removable battery - something the iPhone has been criticised for lacking. Other features include Bluetooth v2.1 with stereo headphone support, a 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB slot and the same hardware on/off button with option to put the handset in flight mode found on the Palm Treo.

The Palm Pre will initially launch exclusively on the US Sprint network. Preorders are being taken at, with the handset available from mid-2009.

Introducing the multi-touch smartphone, executive chairman Jon Rubenstein explained that "the next wave is clearly mobile and Palm's DNA is mobile". Rather than the aim being to hook up with the desktop, said Rubenstein, Palm sees the aim of the smartphone to hook up to the cloud (aka the internet) where you can access all your content, wherever it is and all from the palm of your hand.

Palm president and CEO Ed Colligan said that in contrast to PC manufacturers and other consumer electronics companies that also make handsets, Palm thinks in terms of "fingers not buttons and pockets not processors". Palm is touting the Pre as a device on which the operating system and hardware is invisible, with its intuitive and intelligent interface uppermost.

It has an integrated search feature that initially looks for contacts and relevant entries on the phone itself before initiating a Google search for the whole or partial term or characters entered.

Colligan said that when designing its Palm Pilot mobile device, it was to compete with pen and paper "because that's what people were using" and that the same approach to simplifying people's lives via invisible technology continues to be the company's aim.

Palm sees that while consumers have taken to mobile devices such as smartphones, there is still a need for a single, unified device that not only does email, text and instant messaging and calls, but also serves as an MP3 player, digital camera, mass storage device and internet access device. Blogs, status updates, Twitter, Facebook pokes and other social niceties also need to be kept up with.

Smartphones let you browse all your information drawer by drawer, rather than bringing everything together in a single place. This keeps work and leisure separate, but also means you have to go to several locations and launch several applications to complete your work and social affairs. For example, you might go to your Facebook and see what your friends are up to, upload photos and update your status, then check your personal webmail, your Outlook work emails and have an instant message chat with your kids.

Your Outlook, he said, has hardly any pictures, but your Facebook account where all your real friends are has loads - the aim is to bring the two together.

Where you have multiple contact methods for someone, the Pre stores them all in a single contact list and lets you decide on the most appropriate email, IM or mobile phone number to use to contact them - and which of your contact methods is most appropriate for your message to be sent from.