Daniel Eran Dilger
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The Imagined War between Apple and Palm: Pre vs. iPhone

palm pre itunes

Daniel Eran Dilger

The ridiculous fringe of punditry is working hard to invent a bitter, angry rivalry between Apple and Palm in order to suggest that the iPhone is at some potential risk of being overshadowed and that Apple has become an abusive monopolist seeking to beat up underdogs. They’re wrong, here’s why.
How Times Change.

Tech coverage of the smartphone industry has clearly shifted since the iPhone was launched. Recall when the Street was warning people about how the iPhone actually cost over $17,000 dollars if you added up service fees over the course of two years and then invested the money over your lifetime? That nonsense has blown over; the same people are now referring to the Palm Pre as having a “real cost” that not only ignores the service plan subsidy and “potential for investment,” but throws in a huge mail in rebate… from the company that never bothered to send me my rebate years ago.

The Street’s Flaccid Campaign Against the iPhone

Remember how everyone–including Palm’s executives–doubted whether Apple could “just walk in” and enter the smartphone arena? Now everyone is assuming that Palm will “walk right in” and assume an equal standing with Apple as a mobile software platform vendor, despite having no existing installed base of WebOS users in contrast to the 50 million users Apple has, no experience in successfully selling software, and an SDK that appears to still be unfinished, despite the fact that the Pre doesn’t really run real apps at all, but merely displays simple JavaScript-based web applet widgets.

Palm Pre: The Emperor’s New Phone

Remember how everyone fretted that the iPhone would be sunk by its exclusive US partnership with AT&T, which vies with Verizon for placement as the top US mobile company? Never mind that the Pre is tied to the distantly third place and currently quite beleaguered Sprint, or that its use of CDMA2000 will prevent it from being sold overseas!
Remember when critics complained that the iPhone couldn’t do “over the air” downloads of overpriced ringtones and could only download new music through iTunes? Now they’re celebrating that the Palm Pre can talk to iTunes when its clear the device won’t ever be able to handle iTunes’ online mobile downloads.

All of the standard pundit tricks for painting Apple and its iPhone as set for impending disaster have been turned 180 degrees to make the ailing Palm’s long shot Pre look like it is fated for nothing short of wild success. Of course this is all because the way you defraud investors is by suggesting that a winner is a loser and vice versa.

However, the really bizarre story to emerge from the Palm Pre launch is that, supposedly, Palm’s integration with iTunes has Apple on edge and looking to start an all-out brawl with Palm, as if Apple is worried that its users will desert the company to sign up with Sprint and a experimental new phone from a company set to go out of business, despite all the surveys that consistently report an unusually high level of satisfaction with the iPhone and iPod touch.

The dizzyingly absurd drama that tries to suggest that Apple is desperately scared of the Palm Pre harkens back to the giddy optimism voiced by Windows Enthusiasts who just two years ago tried to suggest the iPod Era was all but over now that Microsoft was gearing up to spit out the Toshiba Gigibeat under its own Zune brand.

Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing

This All Happened Before
Remember that? The PC wags were all certain that the Great Monopolizer of Redmond was going to swoop in and trample the iPod. Computerworld’s Mike Elgan wrote that the Zune “scares Apple to the core” and predicted that Microsoft would “leverage the collective power of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Soapbox (Microsoft’s new ‘YouTube killer’) and the Xbox 360” to steal Apple’s business.

Every time I repeat that quote it gets a little funnier with the additional hindsight. Soapbox not only didn’t kill YouTube, it killed itself; Vista turned out to be a far more disastrous failure than even I had predicted; and the Xbox 360 did absolutely nothing to help the Zune apart from offering lots of bad news about hardware failures that might have had some slight effect in distracting attention away from how poorly the Zune was selling.

The only plausible Zune threat in 2006 was that Microsoft continued to own the PC desktop with Windows XP and, despite it being half a decade old, this offered some credibility for believing that Microsoft could bully its way into the iPod market the same way it had muscled into graphical computing, web browsers, 3D graphics, and so forth, each time offering a far lessor product that managed to suffocate superior innovation and pave over new wild frontiers of technology with the company’s low quality asphalt.

But this didn’t happen to the iPod. Instead, while Microsoft ineffectually tried to copy Apple’s music player products from the year before, Apple rolled out the iPhone and left Microsoft’s jaw on the floor for two and a half years before the company could even announce a vaporous new intent to compete against it in a limited way.

Arrogance Unleashed: The Foul Stench of Computerworld’s Mike Elgan

Palm is no Microsoft

At this point, you might be thinking, “yes, but that was Microsoft, a company that has never done anything but fail miserably! The Palm Pre comes from a rock solid company with impressive products, a stellar reputation for delivering all its promises, incredible third party developer support and long term strategic platform savvy, strong retail operations, and one of the most popular consumer brands on the planet. Apple has no chance!”

And thank you for thinking that, dear reader. My sides hurt, too, as I cry tears that accompany my hysterical laughter.

Of course, the reality is that Palm needs more than just a salable product two years after the debut of the iPhone. It really needs the last four years back, so it can deliver the Palm ahead of the iPhone.

Palm’s investors keep repeating this idea that the Palm Pre can do everything the iPhone can and more, just like the Archos and Zen can do more than the iPod. The problem is that tech products don’t sell based on feature checklists. Compatibility with the mainstream, price, and usability have always been far more important. Apple’s Macintosh struck out on the first two, enabling DOS PCs to overshadow what was clearly a superior product. More recently, the Zune offers an example of striking out on all three factors, while its radio and WiFi gimmick features did nothing to help it.

The Palm Pre has some nice graphics, but the big problem is that it doesn’t offer compatibility with anything, it’s not really any cheaper, and doesn’t do anything novel enough to make up for it. Instead, it not only lacks the ability to run a significant assortment of desirable mobile apps compatible to the iPhone, but it offers no way to ever catch up because it doesn’t run apps at all; it only runs web applets that are limited to the kinds of things you can do in Facebook or Dashboard. No real games, no real apps, just mini widgets that are automatically upgraded as Palm sees fit on the server side. Palm Pre users won’t even have control of their own software.

Corporate legal scrambles to withdraw inflated Palm Pre claims

Competitors and Allies.

Now, I should point out that I’m not anti-Palm just because the Pre is competing against the iPhone, as many will be quick to label me.

Apple desperately needs some real competitive pressure or the company will begin slowing down and get boring, and Palm offers at least a hint at trying to deliver a slick looking alternative, particularly when compared to the monstrously clumsy junk Microsoft is cranking out, or the horrific BlackBerry Storm that RIM excreted, or the random Android mess Google is throwing at the wall to see if it can make something stick somehow, or the Symbian around Nokia’s ankles, or the hopelessness of Motorola and Sony Ericsson. Apple needs a worthy competitor.

But Palm is simply not a credible competitor. That might change if some other company bought it up and did something interesting with the WebOS. The market for smartphones and mobile devices is plenty big enough for Apple to share with several other companies. Apple actually benefits from having multiple vendors competing in the smartphone market, as this keeps a boorish, monotonous, low-end commodity vendor from killing any potential for the creative new products Apple likes to develop.

Why Apple’s Tim Cook Did Not Threaten Palm Pre

Marketing Theater

The real point however, is that Apple is not desperately fearful of Palm. This fiction has been fanned by sensationalist journalists ever since Palm asserted that the Pre was not only certain to eventually ship, but was destined to slay the iPhone. Had it not been for this bit of over the top theater, it’s unlikely that anyone would have even given the deathbed Palm much mention.

Since then, analysts have asked Apple executives leading questions to try to tease out some sort of declaration of war against the Palm Pre, something that Apple has carefully avoided doing. Instead, the company has simply stated that it intends to defend its patented inventions, and avoided any mention of the Pre or any other specific model or company.

The latest on this front has pundits frothing at the prospect of Palm daring to sync its Pre to iTunes, as if Apple is worried that the Palm Pre might help expand the popularity of its music player and sell more music. Really, if you are Apple, are you more worried about a million Palm Pre sales adding a million more iTunes users, or a million sales of something else tied to an iTunes rival?

Instead of worrying that Apple will try to stop Palm from using iTunes, a better question to ask is “what has changed in the last five years that makes Palm desperate to associate its make-or-break phone with iTunes, following years of half-assed Mac support for basic Palm syncing?”

The Egregious Incompetence of Palm

Delicious Irony

The ridiculous idea that Apple doesn’t want Palm to support its platform for syncing and media sales is even more absurd when viewed with some historical context. Recall that one of the first things Steve Jobs did after returning to Apple was to sell the company’s Claris Organizer to Palm, which resulted in Palm Desktop for Mac.

Apple specifically promoted Palm devices as part of its digital hub. After Palm left its Mac HotSync client software to stagnate, Apple took the initiative to write its own free conduit software for Palm to integrate its devices into Mac OS X’s new syncing architecture. Apple also touted compatibility with a variety of other phones, and worked hard to build seamless USB and Bluetooth data sync into the Mac.

Even as the iPod took off, Apple designed iTunes to work with a variety of music players. It designed Sync Services in Mac OS X as an open platform for third party syncing, enabling support for Windows Mobile, RIM and Symbian devices to upload contacts and calendars. Is Apple really going to be outraged that Palm is using this rather than rolling its own buggy Mac sync client or ignoring the Mac entirely? How ruthlessly absurd.

Is Apple also supposed to be upset that Palm used WebKit to deliver the Pre’s browser rather than continuing to use a terrible pre-iPhone browser that does not contribute to the market share of Apple’s standards-based efforts with Mobile Safari? Perhaps Apple will also be greatly disappointed if Palm’s engineers contribute something toward improving WebKit the way Google and Nokia have. What a drag that would be.

And so it is that an ineffectually weak company has desperately come scratching at Apple’s door to associate itself with the iPhone’s popularity, to access its openly shared technology, and to support Apple’s Mac platform and the use of iTunes; still, the only way the clucking nests of pundits can spin things is to suggest that Apple will do all it can to stomp on Palm, so that the only other surviving companies in the smartphone arena are those that hate the Mac and loathe iTunes.

  • harrywolf

    Bush didnt encourage unwise borrowing, but he did ensure that any regulation of banking practices were toothless or worse.

    Its clear that the rich and the right-wing believe that trickle-down economics is a good thing.
    Its also known as “if the table of the rich guy is groaning with food, then lots of tasty crumbs will fall and be eaten by the poor”.

    This isnt a good way to run a society based on the vague notion of equality.
    Daniel is correct when he says that conflict and struggle are necessary – would it be too difficult to see that he means that discussion and debate and open politics and reasoned argument are the conflict he is talking about?

    We need open argument and facts to arrive at good decisions, not rich men insisting that because they are rich and powerful, they must be right.

    If you watch more than an hour of TV a week, you may not be able to engage in intelligent discussion.
    At least forums like this engage everyone – and all without moving pictures!

    Another good article Dan.

  • http://www.veo-design.com VeoSotano

    How about you bring some real arguments on the table instead of just randomly insulting Dan as being in a Californian liberal bubble?

    And FYI you are being very short sighted if you think that the view of Bush being a near dictator is something coming out of the Bay Aera. I’m from Europe and I van tell you that most of the world outside of YOUR bubble thinks that way. Heck, Bush even kind of said he would like to be a dictator!

    I give my vote for that you create a section in your blog dedicated to politics. I’m sure a lot of people would find it interesting to join the discussion, and the no-politics-only-tech people would be sarisfyed as well. I’d be a win-win for all. What do you think?

  • enzos

    Probably not a good idea, Veo. Political debate would overwhelm the boards and monopolize Dan’s time, which is better spent on what he does well – analyze tech trends and dissect the BS of tech journalists.

  • http://www.geoffrobinson.net geoffrobinson

    “Its clear that the rich and the right-wing believe that trickle-down economics is a good thing.”

    This is a good example of the same type of problems found in Dan’s political comments. It assumes a premise which is false. The rich tend to be more liberal.

    Or comments gloss over that Bush was pushing for Freddie & Fannie reform but was thwarted by Congress.

    There are blanket statements which are either false or gross simplifications which become false due to what they leave out.

    So yes, I will continue to ask Dan to get out of his liberal Northern Californian bubble and to interact with views of the other side. You want to try to interact with the very best arguments of the other side without resorting to strawmen. When you stay within your own echo chamber (this applies to all types of viewpoints on a whole host of topics), you tend to succumb to resorting to strawmen and not realizing you built up an argument around a false premise.

  • David

    Geoffrobinson writes: “The rich tend to be more liberal.”
    I disagree.

    Here’s a famous quote by GWB at a GOP fundraiser:

    “This is an impressive crowd…The ‘haves’..and the ‘have mores’! (laughter). Some call you the elite… I call you my base (raucous cheers).

    On this, GWB and I can agree.

    But I’m not saying that being rich requires being ruthless and conservative. While it works that way for a lot of people, Steve Jobs and Apple have shown you can be liberal and simultaneously efficient, creative and successful.

  • iPhone it in

    Daniel said:
    “There’s a reason why American Republicans overwhelmingly voted against fighting Hitler in WWII. Republicans secretly love fascism and the concept of the state doing nothing beyond policing their assets and giving them unfettered ability to oppress the masses with state enforced monopoly businesses.”

    Wait, what? I was following you so far Daniel, but the history geek in me is gonna have to speak up about this bit.

    [ http://www.veteranstoday.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3811 ]

    First, there wasn’t any “vote” about fighting in WW2, unless you count the declaration of war by Congress, which was a unanimous vote. It’s true that many conservatives opposed the war in 1939-11/1941 (as did most of the nation), but that was generally as isolationists, not as Nazi-sympathizers.

    [Republicans were very much against fighting the Nazis right up until Pearl Harbor made it absurd to remain isolationist.

    However, while you might like to think that the party of "traditional conservative Christian values [which] continually talked of morality while top leaders chased young boys, prostitutes and set up private kickback deals with military contractors” which is both anti-union and supports “living in a totalitarian society ruled by big business interests” has nothing to do with Nazis that they are virtually indistinguishable from politically, you might like to revisit your assumptions.

    America’s industrialists like Ford were openly in love with the Nazis. Eisenhower hired Hitler’s lawyers to run his administration (Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles). ]

    Second, I think it’s a bit of a jump to say “Republicans secretly love fascism.” Fascism is tricky to pin down as an ideology, but generally it’s considered corporatist, militaristic, and authoritarian. Big business types somewhat openly loves the idea of corporatism (those state-enforced monopolies), but the average Republican is probably no more comfortable with authoritarianism and (real) military expansionism than you are. If nothing else, they’d be mad when Hitler took their guns away.

    [Please excuse me while I pick my jaw off the floor. The "average Republican" was not comfortable with authoritarianism while worshiping Bush for 8 years and insisting that if you are "not for us you are against us"? and is against military expansion while flag waving the illegitimate trillion dollar war in Iraq and "supporting" the death of +4000 troops to find WMDs and the missing link between 9/11 and Saddam? Oh please, I only eat things once. ]

    And besides, Mussolini had plenty of love from the liberals back in the day.

    [Right, because liberals loved communism AND the communism haters! Sorry, you'll need to reference more than a right wing jibberish book to support that idea.

    As I said before, there is clearly not just two extreme positions of Right and Left in this country. There can't and shouldn't be. There should be two moderate major parties advocating different solutions, and some wilder fringes to offer alternative ideas without having the power to force them on the majority.

    The problem is that particularly since Nixon, the Republican party has stopped being a conservative party and started down the road of extremist, racist (see Nixon's Souther Strategy) anti-government (See Reagan's trickle down, Star Wars Ray-Gun-omics) religious zealots lead by talk show hosts and militant separatists advocating terrorism (Palin). This joke needs to be punched into line. ]

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  • http://www.veo-design.com VeoSotano

    While I agree that Dan’s time should be spent on his amazing analisys of tech topics, the political discussion is already monopolizing a great deal of conversation space in a blog post about Apple and Palm.

    Having those topics separated would give everybody a better time, I think.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat


    There is a separation of tech and “politics” on this page. The dividing line is between the article and the comments section. Don’t read the comments if you don’t want to hear Daniel’s response to his readers’ requests.

  • adamk359

    Well the Pre has been released to the public and from what I’ve read so far…there was a lot of interest, but I’m guessing the people who bought them were mostly of the tech-savvy persuasion who either hate the iPhone (cause it’s an Apple product) or hated their iPhone cause it was the one thing dropping their calls (couldn’t have been the AT&T network). The average person probably doesn’t know about the Pre or at least much about it. The iPhone on the other hand had people all up in a frenzy from techies to the average consumer.

    I think unlike what Steve Jobs said about Apple’s “rivalry” with Microsoft (that in order for Apple to survive that MS must fail – something he disagreed with) that in order for Palm to succeed, Apple must fall flat on it’s ass. As a consumer brand, Apple, even when people complain, still sells. The Anti-Apple techies aren’t enough to sway anyone but themselves. This latest stand by Palm, though, might be it’s last. Too many people have had too many problems with Palm smartphones in the past, so while the Pre might be their best, most polished smartphone product, Palm still has a long way to go in rebuilding their tarnished reputation.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    I won’t buy a Pre. It really doesn’t (to me) look that good. But I want Palm to survive. I’ve owned several Palm Pilots, each of which I wore out. They were damned good for what they were designed for.

    And of course Apple needs competition. If Apple doesn’t have any competition, yes, they will get fat and happy, and start doing stupid things, just like Microsoft, which is now panicing and rather than developing good products, is sending trolls into all the online forums.

    Look at the car market. You don’t like a GM? Buy a Honda. You don’t like a Honda? Buy a Hyundai. You don’t like a Hyundai, buy a Volkswagen. You don’t like a Volkswagen? Buy a Jaguar. Or Fiat. Or Renault. Or Cherry. Or Ford. Or Toyota. Or Nissan. Or Chrysler. Or Mercedes (Diamler in the rest of the world). Or Porsche. Or BMW. And so on and so on.

    There are a lot of other smart phone manufacturers. The problem at present is that none is competing successfully with Apple. What if in the early seventies when Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Subaru were all fighting for the inexpensive car crown in North America, only Honda had showed up? They’d own that portion of the market, and with no competition, they’d get stupid rather quickly.

    Any company needs competition. Without competition, there is a tendency to take it easy. So far we aren’t seeing that with Apple. The company has rolled out several IPhone updates so far, with more in the pipeline. But maybe the Pre will be a better device than I think it is, and drive Apple into providing even more value to the consumer.

  • http://www.veo-design.com VeoSotano

    Well, I completeley disagree with you on that one. I don’t want to insist and bore everybody with the same thing, but there are a lot of comments about Palm, the Pre, and Apple, mixed between the politic ones. So… yeah, I still think a separation between politics and tech would be appropiate.

    About the Pre and it’s webOS, color me skeptical… I’m a web designer and I know from experience that there are a lot of limits you encounter when you do stuff with HTML, CSS, and Javascript, even when they are outside of a browser. Speed is just one example. There is obviously a reason why widgets are just that…. widgets. Even on Mac OSX dasboard widgets you can throw in Objective-C, which is compiled….

    And even if it is a huge success in the US, we’ll see about the international success of the Pre… the iPhone has fared very well so far… that’s a hard act to follow.

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