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CES: Palm announces Pre Plus, Pixi Plus exclusively for Verizon

Palm announced Thursday it will release two new WebOS-based handsets on the Verizon Wireless network on Jan. 25: the Pre Plus and the Pixi Plus.

The design of the Pre Plus has removed the navigation button found on the Pre, and doubled the internal storage to 16GB of flash memory. Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein said it has simplified navigation in its updated form factor.

The Pixi Plus is dubbed as the "perfect first smartphone." The thin and lightweight starter handset is the same as its predecessor, though the new model includes Wi-Fi. Prices for both devices were not revealed.

Both devices will have the Palm Mobile Hotspot software, which will allow the them to be used as a mobile hotspot, in the same fashion as a MiFi. With the tethering application, up to five devices can connect via Wi-Fi and gain 3G Internet access.

The company will also add video recording, along with a built-in video editor, to WebOS. Users will also be able to directly upload their videos to YouTube and Facebook. Existing WebOS customers with the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi will gain the features in February with WebOS 1.4.

Palm also announced high profile brand name games including Sims 3, Tetris and Need for Speed Undercover are coming to its App Catalog. Full 3D demos from EA franchises were shown, and were apparently ported to the device within "a matter of weeks." The games run on the existing Sprint Palm Pre.

"Recent improvements to Palm webOS represent major advancements in enabling world-class mobile gaming," said Travis Boatman, vice president of Worldwide Studios for EA Mobile. "These innovations have allowed us to quickly bring our best IP to the platform."

The company also introduced the Adobe Flash plugin for the Palm Pre browser. Palm demonstrated video playback with a trailer for the movie "Avatar." Apple has not allowed integrated Flash playback on the iPhone, though Adobe last year announced a native app porting development tool would allow Flash applications to be released on the App Store.

Palm revealed it is formally opening its development program to everyone. The company hopes to foster fast and easy development for its platforms running WebOS. "Project Ares" will allow users to create applications entirely in a Web browser. In addition, applications will be able to share data, so contacts from services like Facebook or LinkedIn can be integrated.

Users, through their desktop Web browser, can access the application database for WebOS. Starting today, said Katie Mitic, VP of product marketing, anyone will be able to build directories or create widgets through the WebOS App Gallery.

Project Appetite allows users to shop for software and install them to a phone over the air. Just clicking to install software in a desktop Web browser will automatically send the application to your phone.

Pre Plus

Also announced was the $1 million Hot Apps Bonus Program, which rewards the best-reviewed and most-downloaded app developers. The reward money will be divided between developers who succeed in both paid and free categories.

"We're thrilled to open the doors of a program that offers mobile developers unparalleled freedom and choice in how they distribute and market applications," Mitic said. "The combination of our highly accessible web-based platform, groundbreaking integration opportunities and open, flexible distribution program makes Palm webOS the best place for developers to create the next generation of innovative mobile applications."

On Wednesday, AT&T announced that it would release two WebOS-based devices on its network "soon." The unnamed handsets will be in addition to the carrier's first Google Android-based smartphones, due to arrive in the first half of this year.

At CES 2009, Palm first announced the Palm Pre and the WebOS mobile operating system. The surprise announcement earned positive reaction and buzz from the press.