The big debate for the summer of ‘09 will be a simple question. iPhone or Palm Pre? I’ve read a dozen or so reviews of Palm’s new Pre, most of them positive, none scathing, but no one is calling it an iPhone killer, are they? Why not? Because the Pre was, more or less, developed by Apple, not Palm. The Palm Pre is an evolutionary smart phone which barely manages to do a few things better than the iPhone 3G, and misses the mark on many other features and requirements.
Palm’s history is checkered. The company pioneered the mass market Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) only to languish as the PDA market turned to cell phones for salvation. What does the company have going for it that makes it competitive with Apple’s iPhone? Hubris. And a bunch of former Apple engineers.
They say a company’s culture is reflected from the top down. Apple is dynamic, elegant, simple, secretive. Pretty much like CEO Steve Jobs.
From that, one could argue that Palm CEO Ed Colligan is full of hubris and out of touch. Colligan in 2006 regarding the iPhone:
We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.
And walk in they did. Rather, Apple did. The iPhone is a huge success, coming at the time Palm has become a bottom feeder, bleeding cash and market share like Leona Lewis bleeds love.
Palm investor Roger McNamee had plenty to say about Palm’s Pre vs. the iPhone.
You know the beautiful thing: June 29, 2009, is the two-year anniversary of the first shipment of the iPhone. Not one of those people will still be using an iPhone a month later.
To get back on their feet and attempt one last statement before all the money, customers, and investors run away, Palm hired a whole bunch of engineers from Apple, and gave them the job of outdoing the iPhone.
The reviews of Palm’s new Last Great Hope compare the Pre to the iPhone, and with good reason. Apple engineers. Starting with former NeXT and Apple hardware guy Jon Rubenstein, Palm recruited and hired dozens and dozens of disgruntled Apple engineers to work on the Pre.
By most accounts, Palm’s own smart phone engineers couldn’t engineer their way out of a paper bag, so if the Pre succeeds in bringing Palm back from the brink of death, put the responsibility on Apple. Apple’s controlled culture breeds great products and innovation, but also drives talent out the door.
What’s good about the Pre? What makes it better than an iPhone? Not much.
Most reviewers like the screen, though it’s smaller than the iPhone. Some reviewers like the physical keyboard, but that’s certainly not an evolutionary feature. What else?
Palm lets the Pre run applications and utilities in the background, and, to save battery time Apple does not, but can. The Pre has a user replaceable battery, the iPhone does not. Anything else?
The Pre runs old Palm software in Classic mode. That’s a big whoop, right? The Pre even connects and syncs to iTunes, Mac or PC, masquerading as an iPod.
Are any of these somewhat minor differences sufficient to call the Pre superior to the iPhone? That’s laughable, yet exactly what Colligan and McNamee are saying. They believe the Pre is the superior device.
The Pre does connect with Microsoft Exchange, Google, Yahoo! calendars, email, and contacts, but, in differing ways, so does the iPhone 3G.
Here, in one sentence, is the skinny on the Palm Pre and how it compares with Apple’s current iPhone, not the next evolutionary iPhone to come (soon).
Nice multi-touch screen, multi-tasking, replaceable battery, physical keyboard, improved camera, fast browser, connectivity and sync with internet mail/calendar/contacts for Exchange, Yahoo!, Google, and…
See the problem? Reality bites. What differences are there between the Pre and iPhone that are seldom mentioned in either the reviews or by Palm executives? Digital ink is cheap and I still don’t have enough room.
We buy a smart phone because we need a mobile phone that’s also smart. It’s the applications and utilities that make the phone smart, and that’s where the Pre looks withered and old before its time.
Can you say, App Store? 40,000 applications and a base of nearly 40-million customers. Pre has a few dozen apps. Can you say, Games? iPhone has thousands of attractive, inexpensive games already. Pre has none (to speak of).
Apple hasn’t been standing still while the Pre gains some free pre-hype. iPhone 3.0 will bring an unmatched package of easy-to-use features not easily matched by any smart phone maker.
This is simply too easy. Palm will not have Pre customers standing in line at launch as the iPhone did two years ago, and a year later with the iPhone 3G. One year from now, Palm will not have tens of thousands of apps. Palm will not have millions of customers, either.
By this time next year the iPhone/iPod touch may have over 50-million customers, 50,000 applications 2-3 billion apps downloaded, and a commanding presence as the leading smart phone. Palm will get a few customers on Sprint and Verizon who won’t move to AT&T. Will Palm survive? Yes (maybe after it gets bought out by someone who really, really needs a better phone). Prosper as the iPhone prospers? No.
Enjoy your day in the sun, Palm, Palm execs, Palm investors. But fear not, it won’t be a long day.