Daniel Eran Dilger
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Palm Pre: The Emperor’s New Phone

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Daniel Eran Dilger

Palm impressed CES attendees this year with the unveiling of a new smartphone OS and prototype hardware called the Palm Pre. Given the low expectations set for the firm, the demos drew applause. But why?
Imagine a company announcing a new smartphone that blew away the current state of the art and ushered in a totally revamped user interface with intuitive touch control. That would merit applause. Now wait two years and duplicate the same demo, with missing functionality and lots of important details still unreleased, including the phone’s price. Why should this receive any applause at all, pity?

Palm simply showed up with a copycat iPhone interface two years late. But that isn’t the most egregiously lame part of the Pre’s introduction. Imagine now a different scenario: a new phone with a radical new approach to UI and mobile software is given an open, web standards-based SDK and developers are invited to write cool new applets for the device. Everyone groans and registers a wintery volley of discontent, complaining that without a native SDK, they’d rather develop for other platforms.

That of course was the iPhone in the fall of 2007, before Apple released its Cocoa-based development tools that allowed developers to write actual apps, not just Widget-like JavaScript applets.

Steve Jobs Ends iPhone SDK Panic

Palm’s webOS.

So now Palm scrambles out a demo of a Linux phone running what is essentially a Dashboard layer of browser widgets written in HTML and JavaScript, and CES pundits hail the project as a phenomenal wonderful development, even though the company hasn’t released any details on how to actually develop those supposedly wide open apps outside of a small, closed subset of developers.

This is just another gagging example of how the tech media can complain about the downsides of getting Christmas ponies from Apple while marveling at the potential of diamonds from the chunks of coal thrown at them by other tech companies.

At the same time, Palm’s supposedly marvelous Pre has been associated with the fact that a handful of Palm’s employees once worked at Apple, which they suggest should help make the new Palm device magical. What’s up with these schizophrenic sycophants?

Inside the iPhone: Third Party Software
An iPhone SDK? Predictions for WWDC 2007!
How Open will the iPhone Get?

The software

Palm calls its web development framework Mojo. It has revealed enough information to make it clear that this is plainly widget level development. There’s nothing really wrong with that; I suggested that Apple’s best bet in delivering early apps for the iPhone would be to create a widget sandbox for its web developers so they could run standalone widget-like web apps.

The development community laughed that idea off the table. They demanded nothing short of full access to the Cocoa frameworks Apple itself was using on the iPhone to build its own apps. Apple delivered, creating what has since come to be a blockbuster development program that has attracted massive development resources and resulted in the kind of revenues that are sustaining the development of hundreds of significant new apps from major publishers and indies alike.

Palm is playing a different game, relying on HTML5-style, freestanding web applets that can talk to the device’s internal contact, calendar, and location services via JSON messaging. The web browser Palm showed off on the Pre is based on WebKit, and borrows a lot of the UI and behavior from Mobile Safari. It’s great Palm has joined Nokia and Google’s Android to avail itself of the existing WebKit code that is quickly emerging as the standard for mobile devices, but clearly Palm’s browser is not a JavaScript plus HTML applet; it’s a native app just like the iPhone’s Mobile Safari. In fact, it appears that the Pre’s entire public SDK environment is based upon its WebKit browser engine.

The apps

The Pre applets Palm is trying to all but pass off as equivalents to iPhone apps are not real applications at all but just a mobile version of desktop widgets. If you’re wondering why Palm didn’t trot out EA, Sega and a series of other developers to show their games for the new Pre, suffice it to say they’re not going to be building anything approaching the more demanding iPhone apps as HTML widgets for the Pre.

That might not upset Palm’s user base, which is used to running fairly simple, single-tasking cell phone software apps for the archaic Palm OS. The move to an widget environment that can run “multiple widgets at once” might be seen as an improvement for Palm OS users who have never been able to run two apps concurrently, but sorry I have to throw up a little at the painfully strained attempt by Palm to present the Pre as more advanced than the fully multitasking, but third party-restricted iPhone OS environment.

The iPhone runs real apps and processes concurrently, it just doesn’t allow third parties to install background servers and apps that refuse to shutdown when the user hits the home button. That’s not a “missing feature” that can be improved upon with competitive bullet point marketing fluff, it’s a purposeful engineering decision Apple made that might someday be answered by the availability of greater resources. Palm’s Pre doesn’t solve any new problems in multitasking, it just does less while advertising that it does more.

iPhone 2.0 SDK: The No Multitasking Myth
iPhone 2.0 SDK: Video Games to Rival Nintendo DS, Sony PSP

The user base

Legacy Palm users might be entirely happy with basic widget-like applets. It also may be a significant improvement for owners of Windows Mobile-based Palm devices. The biggest problem for Palm is that its installed base has shrunk to the point of embarrassment. It has no excited, loyal group of customers to upgrade.

Imagine if Apple had lost its iPod empire to Sony and other MP3 makers back in 2005. Had that happened, Apple would never have been able to win back dominance in that market. The same story is there for Palm. It might bounce back from relative obscurity to become another Motorola, but it will never win back its one-time position as the dominant maker of smartphones, at least in the US, which it had in the nearly part of the decade. The company voluntarily abdicated that position through sheer incompetence.

Palm is a lot like Apple in some ways. And Apple did rebound from a pathetic Palm-like position in the mid 90s to become a hardware powerhouse today. However, Apple’s Mac sales never went away, they just remained static and therefore began to pale in significance with the explosive growth of PCs sold around them. Apple bounced back in part by augmenting its Mac sales with the iPod, and it continues to branch out in new areas, adding to its core businesses while strengthening its Mac position.

Palm has not only suffered from the emergence a wider, more diverse smartphone market like Apple did in the PC market, but has lost all relevance as a proprietary hardware vendor because everybody stopped buying Palm devices. The company has no sales to rescue its future. It has now obsolesced its existing Palm OS and Windows CE platforms, rather than augmenting them with a separate successful product. The last attempt to actually add to its core business was last years’ failed Foleo concept.

The Egregious Incompetence of Palm

The hardware

Now take a look at the Pre itself. It’s just over twice as thick as the iPhone 3G. If that doesn’t have you drooling, perhaps you’re not among the smartphone users who value clunky crap built by HTC. Again: the iPhone is .33 inches thick, the Pre is .67 inches. Wow. In weight, the two are about the same however. That means the iPhone feels solid and is well built, while the Pre is the typical HTC smartphone design where large amounts of dead air are engulfed by a cheap plastic fenders.

In part, this kind of construction is there to accommodate the Pre’s replaceable battery, which Palm hailed as an implied improvement over the iPhone. It’s not. In years of Palm Treo ownership, the only time I ever needed to replace the battery was after yanking it out to kill the thing after it crashed. Apple is progressively proving that the pundits are wrong: replaceable batteries are really a feature only in the mind of people who can’t accept new ideas.

The Pre’s screen has the same resolution as the iPhone but is slightly smaller. There’s a slide out Treo-style chicklet keyboard, but apparently no provision for onscreen input at all. That means, like Android, every time you ever want to enter a character, you’ll need to slide the keyboard down and start thumb typing, except your key targets will be far tinier than even the mini-keyboards of phones like the Android-based G1.

There’s no stylus, so all existing Palm OS owners considering the Pre will have to forget everything they know and learn how to use an iPhone, without the iPhone’s software library, without its media playback, without its industrial design, and so on. Why not just get an iPhone? Is the allure of the Pre solely tied to Sprint’s amazing customer service or Palm’s long history of competitive software update prowess?

Stick to your knitting

Remember when the tech media fawned over the BlackBerry Storm, assuming that if RIM could build those popular BlackBerry pager devices, it must also be able to deliver an full screen, touch-based iPhone clone that its satisfied pager customers would flock towards to upgrade? The problem was that RIM wasn’t very good at building an iPhone clone because its core competencies lay elsewhere, and its current BlackBerry users didn’t rush to the Storm because they were BlackBerry owners, not aspiring iPhone users.

Well get ready for the same thing to happen again. Palm makes stylus PDAs with mobile phone features. So now its going to crank out an iPhone clone and suddenly deliver an experience comparable to Apple, despite having no particular experience in digital media sales or media playback, no history in developing a sophisticated operating system, no business acumen in challenging the status quo of the smartphone industry, no proven ability to maintain desktop software, and a developer relations program that has been on life support for years, without any real forward momentum in development technology despite its doodling with Linux, PalmOS enhancements, Windows Mobile tailoring, and even the purchase of BeOS?

Palm has to do something, and the Pre is a nice demo from the company. It isn’t anything very novel or pioneering though. It smacks a lot of last year’s Microsoft Surface: an attempt to take credit for existing technology in a desperate bid to restore some shine to a battered brand. However, it comes across as a bald man’s combover. Who is Palm trying to fool with this nonsense that the Pre is amazing because it accommodates a battery and runs multiple widgets “at once,” just not at the same time?

Even worse, more than a few pundits have been duped into gushing accolades over the Pre, as if there’s a lot to be impressed about. It’s more than a bit early to suggest that Palm has caught up to Apple, since all the Pre is so far is a nice demo. At the same time, there are a few clever innovations on the Pre, including its gesture bar, which replaces the typical, unimaginative, and clumsy joystick navigation common to clunky HTC-style smartphones with a touch sensitive panel outside the screen that responds to swipes in order to go back.

Palm suggests this helps make the Pre more suitable for one-handed operation, but then how does one type on those tiny chicklet keys with one hand? Like the Surface, the Pre demo shows off a lot of things very carefully in a fashion that skips over some important details. What about the serious omissions this phone doesn’t handle?

Scratching the Surface of Microsoft’s New Table PC
Microsoft Surface: the Fine Clothes of a Naked Empire

Copy and paste
Palm has remixed a few iPhone features to make them different and arguably improved (such as a fancier view of tabs in the browser, or integrated mail and instant messenger inboxes), but it isn’t so tough to tweak an existing system that already defined how the standard human interface should work; Microsoft essentially did the same thing when it introduced Windows as ‘almost as good as a Mac.’

The difference then was that the Mac of the mid 90s was too expensive, and Microsoft held a monopoly with DOS. In this version, Palm is intending to sell the Pre for more, not less, than the iPhone, and it has no position of market power to force its clone into the mainstream. Good luck with that, Palm.
And the Pre is a shameless clone; Palm has copied the iPhone’s design down to even minor details, from oval number badges to many of its icons. This isn’t innovation as much as imitation. The iPhone is a good starting place, so there’s nothing really wrong with copying the elements it got right. What’s really wrong with the Pre is that in areas where Palm has introduced something new, it has created a bland, flat interface that appears minimal but is really just lacking.

Everything on the iPhone is action oriented. It’s very easy to know what to do because every screen only offers to do a few things with large, distinctive targets. The Pre’s demonstrated user interface tends to overload the screen with layers of icons and fields that are not sharply outlined, but instead all blandly grey so nothing jumps out as actionable, while everything actually is. It’s minimal looking, but really just busy in a quietly noisy sort of way. It’s the kind of interface where you have to read the entire screen to figure out what to do next.

And now the tricky part

Even if this was an amazing device, how could Palm possibly sell it successfully? Who is going to pay a premium (rumored to be $399) for an iPhone clone that doesn’t do much of what the iPhone does?

How is Palm going to find any attention for a new mobile software platform in the shadow of the iPhone when RIM’s BlackBerry, Google’s Android partners, Nokia’s Symbian, and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile licensees are already desperately hungry for any remaining market share in the emerging mobile software business that Apple brought to life?

Palm has accomplished step one in defeating Apple: introducing copycat hardware that apes some of the iPhone’s features. Considering the waves of similarly ineffectual iPod-killers that washed up dead on Apple’s shores over the last 7 years, that’s not enough to claim victory.

The real test will come when Palm reveals how well it can execute in copying Apple’s business acumen, marketing savvy, customer support, ongoing software development, security refreshes, and industrial design enhancements. In those areas, Palm’s track record is worse than the American car makers. Perhaps the company should proactively hit up President Bush for a billion dollar bailout before he leaves office.

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  • theInnocent

    I see you started 2009 with bang…

  • monkyhead

    Why hasn’t anybody else noticed that the Pre is being applauded for the web-based development plan Apple was so loudly criticized over?

  • http://www.systematicabstraction.com/ KA

    A little exaggeration here and there, but you really put the point across. Palm is being praised for stuff that Apple was criticised for. Many people have been saying that this will be the iPhone killer, but we all know how the others turned out.

  • oomu

    I was, too, amazed to read people applauding the “webkit based sdk” of palm. Before , they were whining to apple for the same thing…

    it’s true, there are really some people who wants to humiliate apple. why ? because of the name “apple” ? of course no, it’s because these people crave the statu-quo.

    Apple is not about statu-quo. so they want apple to stop.

  • niqin

    I missed the point on “copy and paste” as I can’t find the facility on my iphone.

    [And yet you still bought an iPhone. Are you going to cancel your subscription with AT&T and pay a premium to get a Pre later this year? I doubt a lot of others will either. By then, a software update might provide c/p, global search, and other things people ask for. – Dan]

  • http://www.isights.org/ whmlco

    “…despite having no particular experience…”

    To be fair, wasn’t this what everyone said about the iPhone?

  • http://dssstrkl.wordpress.com dssstrkl

    Everyone’s noticed the webapp thing, but no tech magazine or blog will write about it. David Chartier of Ars and Wil Shipley of Delicious Monster have both mentioned it. (And Shipley’s been REALLY vocal about it. He’s trashed web development vs Cocoa far more than Dan has. Check it out: twitter.com/wilshipley)

  • sobesoho

    wow, how can precise be so vicious? It’s nice that someone can question.

  • Janus

    If I recall, much of Apple’s reasoning for limiting multitasking was the huge use of processor, memory, and battery life that keeping all these applications running would require.

    That must mean one of two things:
    1) the Pre’s battery life is going to be atrocious
    2) there is really just one app running: the widget engine and you’re navigating around widgets with lower overhead than a series of individual apps would have. If this is the case, and Palm has achieved both multitasking AND efficient performance, then kudos to them…and perhaps Apple should try adopting a similar approach in iPhone 3.0

  • counterproductive

    @whmlco ““…despite having no particular experience…”

    To be fair, wasn’t this what everyone said about the iPhone?”

    No, it’s not fair. As Daniel repeatedly points out. Apple was dismissed before the iPhone as a company with no phone on the market, with no experience in phones, and with remarks that “computer guys” just couldn’t walk into the market.

    Big whoop. What Apple does have experience in, that no-one else does, is proven competence in platforms, innovation, online store and marketing, delivering new platforms on multiple processor families, easy and efficient software updating, making things user-friendly and accessible, delivering game-changing hardware and consumer mobile devices, shaking up the industry, making suppliers and service providers play ball, thinking big…. the list goes on.

    Sorry, but as Daniel pointed out, Palm has a record of complete incompetence in all these areas. Great, they demo a new device – where is their experience, and proven track record, in making any of these other areas come together to make this product work. Sorry, but Palm is not just going to walk into this area (developing a viable mobile platform that will sustain itself, push the boundaries and create buzz and excitement from actual users). Apple has been doing this for years. Palm has made a few go-nowhere devices and keeps shooting itself in the foot. They leave their own Palm OS? WinCE OS? Now some Web OS? Where is their track record in making the whole widget. Have they got anything original up their sleeve?

    No, it really isn’t fair. It’s not the same thing at all. Criticizing Apple for not actually putting its proven expertise into what, a phone, while Apple had all its ducks in a row and knew how to competently put new technologies together and deliver whole platforms from end to end. That is not quite the same as criticizing the scoffing Palm for thinking they could copy the outside of the iPhone and that somehow, magically makes all these other necessary areas and infrastructures fall into place, when they have fluffed it every other time.

  • Janus

    Regardless of what Apple plans for 3.0, it had better be good.

    Granted, it is totally unfair (and unwise) to compare a product that is going to be here mid-2009 at the earliest vs iPhone 2.2 (which aside from the SDK has changed little conceptually from Jan 2007), but if I were to compare a Pre with an iPhone as it exists now, I would be leaning towards the Pre (that is, “pre”suming its build quality is closer to Apple than HTC).

    How ironic I now find Apple in the position of Windows in that “gee, I’d love to switch to a Pre but all my software and office network setups are with iPhone…”

  • counterproductive

    It’s all backwards and upsidedown. So Apple didn’t have a “phone” before they just walked in. But they had the platform and the technology. Everyone else has had phones for years as if that really matters. Unfortunately, there is a little more to a “phone” than the phone. Palm is lauded as an experienced “smartphone” maker but they and evryone else have a same-old phone looking for a platform. They can all congratulate each other and commiserate together, and the press can hypocritically talk up their phones. Meanwhile I use my iPod Touch instead of a laptop.

  • Janus

    One more thought:

    I am guessing that even if the Pre is a hit, it won’t be enough to save Palm (or Sprint, for that matter). It’s too little too late and they’ve just pulled such an epic Osborne Effect on their existing product line that the whole concept should be renamed the Pre Effect.

    Palm then should make a very tempting target for a takeover. Apple should be first in line to buy them–not because they have a better product or capability (they don’t), but simply to keep Palm’s technology out of the hands of Nokia, Microsoft, RIM, or even some ambitious Asian company flush with US dollars and hungry for expertise that it can’t develop on its own like HTC or Lenovo (again…)

    I imagine a company with a less terrible record than Palm has for marketing, distribution, platform-building etc could do some real damage with a Pre…

  • Janus

    Other reasons why Apple should buy Palm beyond simply keeping Palm technology from competitors who might actually know how to wield it:

    -Apple, unlike just about every other company out there right now, has capital–almost $30 billion of it

    -Apple might be able to force a sale on very favorable terms if they can threaten Palm with all the patent violations they’re probably flirting with

    -Steve gets to have the last laugh with Palm, which refused his offer to buy them around a decade ago.

    -Steve also gets the last laugh with Apple traitor Jon Rubinstein who gets to have a rather less friendly Steve as his boss again. Steve Ballmer may throw chairs and bluster that he is going to “f-ing kill” anyone who betrays him for a competitor, but Steve Jobs will be the one who actually does. Karma’s a pain, ain’t it Rubinstein?

  • http://dssstrkl.wordpress.com dssstrkl

    You missed the most ironic thing. It was Ed Colligan, CEO of Palm who made the computer guys can’t just walk in comment. Another thing that people have failed to point out was that Palm didn’t make the Treo, Handspring did. They came up with the idea of adding a GSM module to the Handspring Visor, then came up with the Treo. The Treo 600 was still branded as a Handspring even after they were acquired by Palm. (Granted that Colligan was one of the original inventors of the Palm, and a founder of Handspring, but still, let’s get our history straight.)

  • http://coderad.net StrictNon-Conformist

    Here’s the most major distinction between Apple’s web app “SDK” and that of the Palm Pre´: Apple’s solution didn’t store the web app locally, meaning you were subjected to all the latencies of whatever web server it was hosted on, and whether or not that server was serving at that time, etc.

    Now, the Palm solution takes advantage of something Safari didn’t have working quite yet for the iPhone or other platforms, but now does: having it purely local. This does greatly enhance the practical value of doing JavaScript/HTML5/etc. apps in what’s essentially a snazzy Dashboard-esque solution, making it a controlled runtime environment, much like Java, but perhaps with far more mere mortal developers: all the JavaScript code monkeys available all over.

    However, while it leverages the much large population of JavaScript junkies and has a ready-made developer set and (easily enough) ported nearly-instantly available web apps that can be made local, I find myself wondering: how much of the underlying hardware does the object model of their internal WebKit-based browser supply full access to, such as the graphics and sound hardware, beyond playing simple MIDI or .WAV files, or simple bits of video that has a pre-defined codec that’s embeddable, and is the OpenGL ES support that’s available via hardware exposed via the JavaScript SDK, and even if it is, what sort of performance will be achieved? In short, while a lot of “mere mortal” phone web apps honestly don’t need OpenGL and more complicated sound support, it seems almost like (granted, this is speculation, because there’s not enough available information) they’re going out of their way to make this phone be game-hostile, or any of the other more interesting apps that are only really feasible with a more solid development language for processing-intensive things, such as even Java is far better than JavaScript, and some C mutation is (for many types of bit twiddling) better than Java is likely to be in such an environment. The detail that’s perhaps far worse for overall powerful/unique apps for the Palm Pre´ is that unless they do provide a way to program it other than with JavaScript, it won’t be able to do a heck of a lot of the other things that are processor-intensive that aren’t reasonably done in the browser object model.

    And of course, here’s the real kicker for comparing the two: as of thus far, the Palm Pre´only seems to support JavaScript/HTML5 based apps, and… that’s about it, whereas, using the ability to use JavaScript within a WebView within the SDK, while there are definite limits to CPU time allowed (come on Apple, relax those when used within an app!) and such things, you can likely do much of the purely JavaScript stuff hosted by a native application, AND still have the option of doing the more low-level fun stuff that makes the most interesting applications possible.

  • http://dssstrkl.wordpress.com dssstrkl

    What technology is there for Apple to keep out of anyone’s hands? The Pre is most likely built by HTC (like every other Palm phone) and the OS is a Linux kernel with a WebKit UI stapled on top. The SDK is basically AJAX querying the cloud and a native SQLite database.

    There’s nothing for Apple to buy because they already give WebKit away as an open source project. Apple doesn’t buy dying companies, doesn’t waste money on revenge and only uses patents defensively. Apple might take some ideas from the new Palm, but wasting time, effort and money on a useless buyout, that they could be spending on PA Semi? Not too likely, especially for a company whose recent acquisitions can be counted with two fingers. (That would be NExT and PA Semi for those keeping score.) There’s just nothing in it for Apple to buy Palm, especially when they can just crush them in the market.

  • grimster

    One flaw of the iPhone is painfully highlighted while trying to post here for the first time, just a minute ago. When I registered, wordpress will send the password to my email, which consisted of 12 random letters, symbols and capitalization. Forcing me to wait until I get to my desktop to copy and paste the password before I can comment here.

    Actually I don’t have an iPhone, its an iPod Touch. I love it to bits. As well as all the other Apple products I own for the past 20 years. However, even I am shocked at this particularly, sorry to say, myopic article. The Palm Pre is really really good.

    As a business user, out of necessity, I carry around my iPod Touch and my Samsung i780 win.mobile smartphone. I wish there was a device that can combine the best of both of these devices, and the Pre comes pretty damn close.

    There are two major things that has forced me to choose the i780 over the iphone: Keyboard and Copy & Paste

    Yes only these two things, but so major that they are total deal breakers as far as iPhone goes. God knows I’ve tried my best to convince myself that I can type just as fast on the Touch keyboard as a real one, but that’s just self delusion. By organizing my life around my device, I’m constantly writing notes about people, meeting notes and appointments, writing lists, expenditures, agendas, reminders, text messages. I need writing to be fast fast fast. Especially since real life means we’re constantly on the go, what people say people and events pass by quickly. Using the touch for a few months now, I know it’s frustratingly slow compared to my i780 which is in my other pocket. I really tried to make it work, just so that i can get rid of two devices and get an iPhone. But the virtual keyboard isn’t dependable enough meaning the iPhone can never be as dependable as a keyboard based device.

    And speaking of speed, in real life, copy and paste is a necessity to bring information from one app to another. Who has time to write down stuff just to copy. Like addresses or info that people text me. How else am I going to get it into my contact list or notes. Or the web. This is the internet age and I can’t even copy anything from the net into my notes, its ridiculous. Deal breaker.

    The Pre is a fantastic compromise. Better than windows mobile UI (which is more than enough for most people), large capacitive screen, keyboard and copy&paste. I’m definitely going to replace my i780 with it, and relegate my Touch out of my pocket into my man purse.


    Also i’d like to point out that the web based development that palm is doing is far more powerful that what Apple gave us at the beginning. Palm is giving ways to actually hook into the phone features, unlike Apple.

    Palm is using webkit as the rendering engine of the entire OS, which I find it ingenious. Quite similar to how Apple uses PDF as the the display layer for the entire OS. Webkit is phenomenally fast especially with the new squirrelfish JS. Apple has invested heavily in webkit because they want it to fast enough to be used as desktop apps, like mobileme. And Palm is using it to its full advantage.

    For one thing it makes it super easy to develop. I want to write my own apps, but what has stopped me is the time to learn an entire new language. JS is familiar and a skill that is also useful outside of WebOS. Palm are going to attract tons of new developers such as me, meaning there will be there will tons of apps, including maybe that unique killer app that is not available on any other platform.

    [I totally agree with you: I’ve run into times when I really wanted some way to copy/paste, and it is a frustrating omission. If the Pre was on sale, it would be a clear feather for Palm’s cap (and reason enough for people like yourself to chose a different phone that does do c/p). I have yet to try the Pre; I had a Treo for years that had such a difficult to use c/p system (and such a weak browser) that I didn’t ever really use it, just like the replaceable battery.

    Palm’s webOS idea does make sense for little HyperCard like applets, but as I point out, it’s not going to result in console style games that make up much of the iPhone’s library and app revenues for developers. And its not really akin to Apple’s PDF-speaking compositing engine, it’s more like a Mac OS X where only the Dashboard layer is open to third party developers. Wow, lots of potential for cute widgets, but that’s it. No meat. – Dan ]

  • Janus


    You are right that the technology is nothing new. However, what seems to be exceedingly rare is the ability to “get it” and escape the sirens’ song of feature creep that seems to pervade the best-intentioned engineering offices of the Nokias, RIMs, and MS WinMo licensees of the world. Such knowledge could be dangerous

    I’d also love to see Steve feed Rubinstein to the secret lion pit he has built underneath 1 Infinite Loop…

    Moreover, Apple acquisitions also include PowerSchool, Emagic, Fingerworks…

  • harrywolf

    As usual, Daniel cuts through the crap, with precision and style and accuracy.
    The Pre is the zune of phones – destined for the scrap pile of history.

    If Palm had done this three years ago it might have been great, but then Apple hadnt released their brilliant iPhone for everyone to copy, so it couldnt have happened.

    Can ANYONE come up with an innovative phone? Seems most unlikely.

    The Pre is more proof, if we needed it, that the iPhone is the most innovative product in the phone/computer world since the cell phone itself.

  • hmciv

    Credit to Palm for realizing they couldn’t remain with PalmOS which has been neglected for years. It’s no iPhone but I’d take Palm’s swan song over Windows Mobile, HTC or Blackberry Storm any day.

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  • http://lantinian.blogspot.com lantinian

    Dan, as soon as I watched the keynote, I knew to expect a BIG comment from you. And delivered it, you did.

    Granted, there is a lot of similarity between iPhone Webapps and Palm Pre WebOS, and granted Palm Pre is far from available on the shelves but you fail to acknowledge the pluces of the Pre. The amount of access given to developers and the level of integration of the services is a step ahead of the iPhone 3rd party apps on the iPhone.

    I love how the native iPhone apps are interlinked but the integration goes so far. I do not like to have 3 SMS/IM programs on the iPhone. I want one. I do not want 3 camera apps. I want one. I do not want 3 media apps, I want one. I do not want 5 type of search apps, i want one.

    Palm Pre unlike the iPhone is not build as a satellite device to a computer but a standalone smartphone. One that can interact with data without the need for a computer. I think that is a more advanced concept that everything trough iTunes way of the iPhone.

    Granted, now I can buy apps and music and podcasts wirelessly with the iPhone but just about every other type of data needs syncing with iTunes.

    Maybe the Palm Pre does have lots more memory and bad battery performance and maybe it web-kit allows more efficient use of memory space and multi tasking. After all Mobile Safari allows up to 8 windows to be open at a time.

    Granted, Apple will very likely introduce iPhone 3 in the summer, with new OS changed and hardware improvements. But unless they make some integration of the 10,000 apps and services available on the iPhone, Palm will have the better Smarthphone.

    Here is one suggestion I would like you to think about.

    How about the App Store to offer App-addons for the stock iPhone Apps as well? These are all the little functionality that we have several 3rd party app for, but integrated in the default stock Apps.

  • http://ideasengine.cytv.com cy_starkman

    @ lantinian

    Just wanted to comment on your thought that the “Palm Pre unlike the iPhone is not build as a satellite device to a computer but a standalone smartphone. One that can interact with data without the need for a computer. I think that is a more advanced concept that everything trough iTunes way of the iPhone.”

    Except for first time registration, backup and firmware the iPhone has no need for iTunes or a computer, all 3 of which are fair enough. I doubt the Pre backs itself up and does firmware updates over the phone network. That would be slow and um, still a satellite device to a computer.

    The iPhone isn’t just a standalone smartphone, its a stand alone computer. I still am astounded that the blogosphere is barely aware of this. It has replaced my laptop for most non-design based tasks.

    Apple doesn’t need a netbook, it jumped right past that. Just no one has woken up to the fact yet.

    I think Dan has been a bit harsh on the Pre, but that’s him, an abusive, sometimes right, always technically nailing it kind of guy.

  • Janus

    Apparently the Pre DOES do firmware updates OTA.

  • oomu

    “To be fair, wasn’t this what everyone said about the iPhone?”

    only about “phoning” stuff, and in fact, apple DID have experience : the motorola device, years before. (apple in fact did a Sony cheat :) : to work with an other company for a device aaaaand years after, do it itself ALONE)

    and for what RoughlyDrafted said, about design, about app store, and so on, yes Apple did already have experience.

    in fact, apple already sold third party applications before : the ipod games, apple already have a proven hardware design skills , and so on.

    Apple moved slowly, experimented with tiny stuff (who cared about ipod games? well.. they used DRM !), and one day : bang!

    the iphone with mobile me can totally sync “over the air”.

    you can buy music, app “over the air”

    but I disagree with the palm vision. A computer is great. People have computers. I want to be able to sync , IF I WANT, by usb (or better : firewire, hum…sorry), and to SAVE all the content.

    To Apple, everything is around the computer, the computer has all your files, stuff, and the devices sync with it, or the computer sync the network or whatever. but for apple you should have a computer : a mac.

    I’m not so sure , now, the mac is the center of the “ilife” , for apple, but the mac (or pc) is surely a part of the equation. “you take a phone, of couuuurse you have a computer”.

    it works tremendously well for the ipod. Creative and Sony did too the “no need a computer” attacks with some ipod clones.

    but it’s wrong to say the iphone can only be operated with a computer. everything is “on the cloud” now, if you want. and I’m sure apple will grow mobileme with time.

    firmware updating over wifi is not solid enough. in fact, wifi is not solid enough. oh sure it’s possible, and apple could allow it , but I would not trust it for a time. Corruption by wifi is reaaally easy. It would be slow to begin. but, well if people want that, I’m sure apple will add it one day.

    “I think Dan has been a bit harsh on the Pre, but that’s him, an abusive, sometimes right, always technically nailing it kind of guy.”

    it’s to nail his point, because the “pundits” are also harsh, with crazy titles and a lot of hype. he does the reverse.

    but he has a good thing for him : he explains, he tells facts.

  • oomu

    the fact is, Palm was able to show an interesting product. Maybe it will not be great or maybe it will, but the important thing : Palm is trying.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir


    If so, that’s a big leap from their previous method. ATS. At The Store!

    Software Updates which normal people can and do actually install: this is one of Apple’s most underestimated strengths.

  • nat

    I’ve already heard the Pre described by the tech media as “the phone for people who aren’t quite ready for a smartphone.” Well, I hope they’re ready for the smartphone data plan costs.

    This is another reason why that iPhone nano rumor made no sense: regardless of size, it would still require the same smartphone data plan.

    Also, I don’t understand what the little touch-sensitive area is for. The Pre does have a touchscreen, right? Wouldn’t this duplicate that functionality? O.o

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir


    Corruption by WiFi?

    I’ve used 802.11g and n for most of my networking for the last five years, and can’t recall a single instance of data corruption. Wireless protocols include checksum mechanisms as part of their core technology. Any packets which fail are requested again, slowing down but definitely not corrupting the transfer.

    Apple just prefers USB sync because it combines sync and charge at the same time. Don’t underestimate just how much easier that feels to so many people who know that all they need to do to refresh their iPod or iPhone is put it in its dock. No need to worry about having enough charge left to sync a few gigs over power hungry WiFi. No need to fear the consequences of skipping several software updates.

    Truly discrete operation will open up the iPhone to the parts of the world where people are moving straight to smart phones without getting a computer first. But Apple has a few years to address that, which I hope it will. Right now, with the world where it is, the iPhone is doing what it needs to. Namely establish a strong position in the advanced countries, syncing with iTunes until the future hardware is ready to take up that challenge.

  • http://www.stevelee.name/ stevelee

    ” because its core competencies lied elsewhere”

    The competencies did not make untrue statements. They lay elsewhere.

    lie lay lain

  • elllroy

    yes the pre copies a lot from the iphone but it also improves a lot where the iphone is missing:
    – copy and paste
    – email-organisation
    – notes-handling
    – search
    – web integration
    – messaging

  • gus2000

    “… complain about the downsides of getting Christmas ponies from Apple while marveling at the potential of diamonds from the chunks of coal thrown at them by other tech companies”

    I love reading Dan’s work, if for no other reason than the visual imagery. It could use a little more alliteration, though.

    I prefer to predict that the pregnant-looking Palm Pre’s predicament will be will be it’s lack of preparation for the press at it’s premiere, predicated on the prerequisite prejudice against Apple. We may pretend to hold the prevalent opinion that the Pre is not prey, but Palm’s predilections preclude precognition of the looming precipice.

  • gus2000

    I may hit “submit” prematurely.

  • nat

    “I love reading Dan’s work, if for no other reason than the visual imagery. It could use a little more alliteration, though.”

    Well he did kind of rhyme ponies companies. :D

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    I should point out that this article isn’t a review of the Pre as much as a castigation of the media for being so quick to overlook any obvious problems in order to hail every new product as an iPhone Killer.

    I mentioned the Gesture Bar (essentially a touch sensitive Home button that allows for more interface complexity than just a single or double click as the iPhone’s does) as an interesting feature, and the Pre says it supports copy/paste, global search, and integrated messaging.

    However, before anyone makes any feature comparisons to the iPhone, keep in mind that Apple is already well ahead in other areas that are more significant, and that the Pre isn’t on sale yet. Once its finished, priced and ready for sale later this year, we can see whether the Pre still has any features that the iPhone lacks, and how much of a pricing premium those features carry.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    comment from reader ninjabobspelledwitha4:

    “Palm has a tendency to abandon its high end phones relatively quickly.”

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    “Palm has to do something, and the Pre is a nice demo from the company. …However, it comes across as a bald man’s combover.”

    Hilarious analogy! This is why I love reading this site.

    It’s interesting how the Pre is being applauded for offering a WebKit-based SDK. Dan makes a great point – the Pre’s included apps obviously aren’t just written with HTML and JavaScript, so why are developers content with that for their own apps? The *exact same thing* went over like a lead balloon when Apple announced it for the iPhone.

    The Pre sounded exciting at first, just because it was something actually modern coming out of Palm…but after learning more about it, it’s clearly just another half-thought out, “me too” product trying to capitalize on the attention brought to the market by the iPhone.

    Seriously, a WebKit-based SDK almost *two years* after developers rejected that idea from Apple? Too little, too late. They just did that to quickly show off how they can run “real apps” too. Problem is, that’s not going to fly up against Cocoa Touch on the iPhone – as Dan pointed out, where’s stuff like 3D games? Oh, that’s right, you can’t do that…

  • gslusher

    Oh, and one more thing: Why aren’t the pundits up in arms because the Pre will be available only on Sprint? (As I recall, the first Treos were available on only one provider, as well.)

  • Dorotea

    The stunning part about the iPhone when it was announced was its operating system – Mac OS X!

    Most of the complaining about web development for iPhone came from the fact that experienced Mac developers were left to do web dev instead of hard-core Objective – C programming.

  • augustwest

    @ Nat

    I am wondering this too (why the touch area under the screen) along with the silly “dot” that is on the screen when ever you touch it. Could these be ways around apples patents?

  • http://www.batteryslave.com batteryslave

    whe apple annouced the iphone and said they where 2 years ahead of the market i could not believe it. but as you can see, even if he pre is the iphone-killer we got the 2 promised years.

    but i think the pre isnt gonna make it. as daniel shows all the hype was about minor stuff. apple has all possibilities to improve above what the pre promises until it will be delivered. so what.

    but i think any slightly better or worse competitor is good. and even if it is only for pushing apple towards the copy/paste everyone is so missing…

  • roz

    First, is webOS supports persistent apps, with persistent data stores so that they can operate when the device is out of the range of a network, and these apps are not hosted in the browser app the fact that these app’s UIs are made using web standards is really irrelevant. Its a much different story from what we say with the iPhone initially.

    I would think that Cocoa is much better for developers in terms of power and flexibility, but CSS and AJAX stuff has a nice advantage that there is a huge knowledge base of developers who could conceivably jump in an make stuff, if they wish to.

    I really don’t see a reason why there is not a framework for bringing things like Dashboard widgets to the iPhone. Maybe that is easy to do now but I have not heard much about it if it is.

    I don’t have a lot of optimism for Palm to support these devices over the long run but I can see them as a potential acquisition, which could not be said before last week. I suspect that by the end of the year MSFT will buy BB or Palm. BB is the smarter bet but if they won’t sell, Palm has a lot to offer.

    We don’t know the price of this device and its also telling that they would not allow people to play with it. Palm is just trying to keep a bit of mindshare here and they are doing a good job of delivering the hype.

    I think the hyping of these competitors to iPhone is partly a natural outcome of Apple only allowing the iPhone on one carrier. Sprint, Verizon and TMobile have a huge incentive to create a challenger look real. These companies would like nothing more than to just offer the product that people come in all day asking for. If Apple had a CDMA version Sprint and Verizion would be 100% behind the device, instead of hyping the Storm and now the Pre.

    Part of the bias which Daniel is right to point out, I suspect also comes from the media reacting to the fact that Apple, while creating incredible devices, often tries to game the market. Strange rules that limit access. Plain ignoring customer requests – copy and paste, a physical keyboard. And in some areas not delivering, ToDos, Notes and Calenders still still don’t sync to anything. Subscribed Calenders still don’t work. And then there is stuff like MobileMe, which while amazing is a closed vertical system. Some people have adopted gCal, gMail etc. They should just have a simple straight forward sync to it, and it should not cost extra. As much as I appreciate MobileMe, a free sync Google stuff is absolutely needed to have a good customer experience.

    So when Pre offers a way to get to any calender you like, or any source of contact you like, it looks compelling, it is compelling. There is no reason why that functionality is not built into iPhone from the start.

    My friend keep telling me that she wants to get an iPhone so that she can see her google calender while away from her desk. Ok you can do this in the browser but it is going to annoying to break the news that you just can’t do it in the iPhone calender app. That is just silly.

  • x23

    @ dssstrkl { 01.12.09 at 6:06 am }

    “Not too likely, especially for a company whose recent acquisitions can be counted with two fingers. (That would be NExT and PA Semi for those keeping score.)”

    i’d argue that the acquisition of Emagic was a fairly big and important one… as the purchase of Final Cut from Macromedia. the Shake purchase was pretty big too. i’m sure there are others i am currently forgetting.

  • Pingback: Palm Pre: Doubters, Haters & Dreamers | Mobility Site()

  • elppa

    There was some company called FingerWorks as well I believe.

  • tolak

    In my view, the Palm Pre is a the natural successor to the PDA.

    I would argue that the apps I have most used on mobile devices could be easily be authored in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. In fact, it’s a shame that only now this is being realized.

    Smartphone apps are simple apps that may be clients of complex back end systems but not more. In the time since the iPhone was released the evidence for the necessity of a native and sophisticated SDK hasn’t shown up. Palm has gotten this right.

    [As I said, Pre web applets could well be an improvement over PalmOS applets, but they can’t hold a candle to the innovative apps and games that are actually driving sales in the iPhone Apps Store. If you haven’t noticed, the top mobile apps aren’t little dinky widgets, they’re involved games like SimCity, significant apps like Salesforce, creative toys like Ocarina, and so on. Remove all the apps that couldn’t be delivered as HTML/JavaScript widgets, and you’d have a pretty third rate alternative to the Apps Store.]

    Perhaps two years ago this kind of SDK would’ve been dismissed. The initial iPhone web apps idea is nothing at all like Mojo. If anything, I think Apple and Google’s creations seem a bit overwrought given the devices and usage in question.

    [No, two years ago it would have been spectacular. Today is it nothing special, particularly when the competition has had out a full desktop development toolkit for a year and taken the world by storm.]

    Of course, the iPhone is a cool gaming and multimedia platform, and I don’t see this being accomplished nearly as well with Mojo. But by far, Palm is showing innovation and understanding of where things are going. It would be interesting to see how Apple responds, given that they are tied to MobileMe and iTunes. These two are big selling points but also limiting for users. I don’t think Apple can keep up with social software startups, something Palm understands and is fully committed to integrate with.

    I think this article was over the top and full of exaggerations.

    [I think ‘over the top’ can only be applied to comments on the level of “by far, Palm is showing innovation and understanding of where things are going.”

    Palm is scrambling to catch up to where things were two years ago. It has given no evidence of having any idea where things are going, witness last year’s Foleo and the last half decade of Palm OS development.

    And in terms of “integrating with social software startups,” are you unaware that the iPhone has the best clients for Facebook, MySpace, Loopt, ad nasuem? Or did you miss Apple’s tie-ins to Flickr and Facebook in iPhoto and Apple TV, etc? – Dan ]

  • tolak

    I have not been impressed with the application offerings on the iPhone. I’m a PDA/business type of person with some entertainment usage although the media I consume is mostly news. I really do appreciate a physical keyboard and one-handed usage, well-thought-out calendar and contact integration. Things Palm has always known how to do right. Palm is pragmatic, Apple is artistic and will do away with a keyboard or a clipboard for some obscure aesthetic principle. Users like me are not served well by the iPhone.

    The only iPhone app I was really impressed with is OmniFocus.

  • grimster

    “… significant apps like Salesforce …”

    Why not?

    I think you have underestimated the platform if you think apps like these are not possible. In fact, as a somewhat experienced web developer, I would argue that it’s just these sort of database intensive apps that would be much easier to produce using web methodologies.

    Lets not forget, all those apps that were demoed in CES were done using the same exact tools. Every built-in app was constructed on the same platform. As we could see, plenty of people are impressed by their power. The successful original Palm PDA had a huge library of very practical useful apps that didn’t utilize fancy graphics and could easily be replicated in WebOS. Even the MobileMe web apps are built upon the same platform.

    Given the right framework, which sounds like what palm is doing, almost all the apps in the app store is doable besides the games and maybe entertainment category. Lets see, that still leaves books, business, education, finance, health and fitness, lifestyle, medical, music, navigation, news, photography, photography, productivity, reference, social networking, sports, travel, utilities, weather.

    OSX doesn’t have alot of games compared to windows, but enough people just want to be productive to create a very successful platform.

  • roz

    I guess one question for people is do you think the linking of many data sources for a given contact is a good feature? Should Apple just rip that off?

    I kinda think its cool, though a bit geeky. I can see that feature existing and people not using it. I’m not sure.