Palm went into a deep research and development phase for a few years. Now, it’s coming up for air. It’s unveiling the long-awaited Palm Pre at the International Consumer Electronics Show today in Las Vegas.

This new smart phone was engineered from the ground up to handle the Internet and all the complexity it brings. We’ll see if it will save Palm. The Pre takes a few ideas from the iPhone and has a gesture-based interface. You use your fingers to navigate the 3.1-inch screen and its very simple user interface.

What follows is a live blog of the launch event:

Jon Rubinstein, executive chairman, is introducing the Palm Pre.

It looks pretty darn cool and they’re getting pretty good applause as they walk through the demo. The Pre brings all of your information, like your Facebook contacts and Outlook contacts, into the same integrated contact list — complete with all of the Facebook pictures. You tap on someone’s face and then you can see all of the contacts you have for them from Gmail, Outlook, or Facebook — or whatever. All of that info is brought into one place, but the data remains independent. You search for a number by tapping in a name. If it can’t find your address quickly, it will search your corporate exchange database to find the number.

The applications are organized as objects called Cards. You can rotate a carousel with your finger flicks and find what you want. And you can keep multiple Cards open at the same time.

The phone has a replaceable battery, an EVDO data modem, 802.11 B/G data access, Bluetooth and a Texas Instruments OMAP 3430 processor. It has a 320 x 480 touch screen, eight gigabytes of storage, and GPS navigation built-in. You can navigate by touch or by a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out. It runs a brand new Palm Web OS, which is based on open web standards such as HTML, Javascript and CSS.

With an instant messenger or text message conversation, all of the threads are integrated. If you’re talking to one person, you can chat with them easily, regardless of the way they contact you.

You can search for something like The Blue Man Group. You tap on the result to pull up the page. If you want to pull up a photo, you can use your fingers to expand the photo to consume the whole screen. It’s multi-touch capable in that sense. It has accelerometers just like the iPhone. So if you turn the screen sideways, the text will go horizontal. (The demo guy got some laughs by going to a web site and bringing up a story on The Joy of Sex).

When a text message comes in, you can see it appear at the bottom of the screen. When you see something you like, you can tap on the gesture area at the bottom of the screen and pull it up. After you read the message, you return to the application that was interrupted.

Ed Colligan, president and chief executive of Palm, said the platform was brand new, created for the Internet age, from the ground up. It’s aimed at “redefining the center of your access point to the Net.”

There is also a really neat charging pad accessory that lets you charge the device without wires. You just set your phone on top of it (left) and it charges.

Sprint is the exclusive cell service provider for the Palm Pre at launch, which will be sometime in the first half of this year. The company expects thousands of developers to quickly begin making applications for the platform.

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