Palm Pre: Five reasons to expect a homerun

Palm Pre: Five reasons to expect a homerun

Summary: Palm has done a platform reboot with its new webOS and the company is swinging for the fences with its first webOS device, the Palm Pre. So will Palm strike out or hit it out of the park? Here are five reasons why I expect it to be a homerun.

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Palm deserves credit for making a bold move to completely reboot its mobile operating system with the webOS. It also brought in hardware guru Jon Rubinstein from Apple to help design a breakthrough smartphone to jumpstart Palm's position in the market.

Make no mistake about it, Palm has bet the company on the Palm Pre smartphone and the new webOS that powers it. If there are any unexpected problems with the Pre and it falls short of sales expectations when it launches on June 6, it would be financially and morally devastating to Palm.

However, I doubt that will happen. I expect the Pre to be a big hit, and here are the top five reasons why:

5. Palm knows how to build an ecosystem

With all of the momentum that is building around the iPhone as an application platform, Palm has a lot of ground to make up (and, for that matter, so do BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Android, and Symbian). The thing Palm has going for it is that it knows how to build an ecosystem around its products. It did it before with the original Palm Pilot.

In fact, before the runaway growth of the iPhone App Store, the Palm OS still had arguably the widest collection of third party applications for any smartphone. Most of those apps were a legacy from the Palm Pilot, but many of them were still among the best you could find for a smartphone. Palm's new webOS will even include an emulator that will run classic Palm OS apps. But, we should also expect lots of flashy, new webOS applications because the webOS platform is friendly to programmers, and working with third-party developers is baked into Palm's DNA.

4. The carriers want an iPhone competitor

Sprint has a deal with Palm to be the exclusive U.S. carrier for the Pre through the end of 2009. Verizon has already announced that it plans to start carrying the Pre at the beginning of 2010 and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that he wants the Pre on AT&T. So, within a year, the Pre will likely be available on all of the top three U.S. carriers, plus a GSM version of the smartphone will likely be spreading across the globe by then.

Many of these carriers covet the Palm Pre because the iPhone, with its exclusive carrier deals in various countries, has become a magnet drawing customers away from current carriers to the iPhone's carrier (AT&T in the U.S.). Since the Pre looks like that first smartphone that can stand toe-to-toe with the iPhone technologically, it's very likely that many of the non-iPhone carriers that offer the Pre will market it with heavy promotions that will drive sales.

3. The webOS will be a strong development platform

Applications for Palm's new webOS are built with HTML, Javascript, and CSS, which are the standard languages for today's Web developers. Comparatively, iPhone apps are built in Objective C and Android apps are built with Java.  That gives iPhone and Android a few more powerful tools to work with, but it also means that webOS will natively be more Web-savvy and will be faster and easier for developing apps.

The challenge is that Palm has so far limited access to the Palm Mojo software development kit (SDK) to a select group of partners. If Palm is going to compete with the iPhone and its application juggernaut it's going to have to open up its new SDK to the wider world as soon as possible.

2. Touchscreen + Qwerty

Qwerty devices such as the BlackBerry Curve, the Nokia E71, and Samsung Blackjack are all excellent email and data entry devices, but they are not very useful for Web browsing or reading a lot of text. Conversely, full touchscreen devices such as the iPhone, the Google G1, and the BlackBerry Storm are all excellent for Web browsing and reading text, but their keyboards make them less useful for typing emails and other kinds of data entry.

So the ultimate device should combine a touchscreen and a qwerty keyboard, right? The G1 makes a noble attempt, but it's flip-down keyboard is awkward and not very effective. The Palm Pre represents the first effective fusion of the two, although it's not perfect either. The Pre keyboard is even a little smaller than the BlackBerry Curve, so it will be tough for people with large fingers to use. Nevertheless, it's the first smartphone to effectively combine a full touchscreen with an effective qwerty thumboard. Other devices will likely follow its lead.

1. It is the first true multi-tasking smartphone

The most revolutionary part of the Palm Pre is its multi-tasking functionality. While all of the Pre's current smartphone competitors have very limited multi-tasking, the Pre provides the computing power for full multi-tasking and does it in an elegant interface that makes it easy to flip through apps and get real-time alerts on-screen.

In the webOS, applications appear as a deck of cards that you can flip through with the swipe of a finger. Each app is one card and can be organized, managed, and closed using touchscreen gestures. The webOS also offers on-screen alerts that pop up along the bottom of the screen. For example, while typing an email, you might be an IM message and have a meeting alert from your calendar. Both items would appear along the bottom of the screen and a simple tap would take you into either application.

This makes the Palm Pre feel much more like the computing experience that all of us are used to on a desktop or laptop PC, and that's the Palm Pre's biggest contribution, and it's biggest draw.

For more insights on Palm Pre, iPhone, and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner

Bottom line

The Palm Pre will be the next big step forward for the smartphone as a computing device. BlackBerry created the smartphone category in the early part of this decade with the first thumboard, Palm briefly helped reinvent the smartphone with the Treo and its phone/email synergy, and then the iPhone brought the full Web and application experience to the smartphone. Now, the Palm Pre brings true multi-tasking to the smartphone. That, combined with current market forces and Palm's mobile DNA, will make the Pre one of tech's biggest success stories of 2009.

Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Operating Systems, Smartphones

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72 comments
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  • Can't wait to put my hands on it

    Like a lot of people I can't wait to put my hands on it, but since I live outside the U.S., I'll probally gonna need and I'm willing to spend big bucks on the unlocked GSM version.
    kok_warlock
    • Why??? It looks totally lame.

      It looks lame and awkward. I'm not going to call it a total flop.. But it's no iPhone killer... It's not even going to be a contender.
      i8thecat
      • Why's that?

        I'm not saying you're wrong, but I think the jury's still out on this one. The biggest impediment right now to the Pre being a "contender" is the lack of apps, but it's only been out for 3 days, and it doesn't even have an SDK yet. Not to mention the fact that the Classic app brings along thousands of the Palm apps that users have been running for years.

        It's by no means an easy call, but I don't think you can count Palm out quite yet.
        bhartman33@...
  • RE: Palm Pre: Five reasons to expect a homerun

    You're not the only one who expects a homerun. When the Pre was announced in January, Palm's stock was $1.49 a share. It closed yesterday at almost $13! I also expect (and very much hope for) the homerun product. Go Palm!
    TimmyB
    • LOL

      LOL... Can I say lol? Ok... LOL!
      The stock price has nothing to do with that. At least not much. And you would know that if you has some understanding of the markets.
      Viklund
      • then enlghten us

        and tell us ignorant cretins why palm's shares have jumped enormously in value.
        Hogleg
        • Palm Stock

          Hi,
          The stock price is up on speculation that the Palm Pre will be a rocking success. The few people that bought Apple stock back before the first iPod or event the iPhone made pretty good money. If the pre is successful and brings in lots of money for Palm, the stock could easily double. If you wait till then you won't make anything. If Palm fails you loose, but that is the nature of the market. If you want safe investing, stick to savings accounts.
          jimkata2000
          • my point exactly

            thank you
            Hogleg
  • RE: Palm Pre: Five reasons to expect a homerun

    I'm waking the wife and kids up early to go pick one up. But I'm finding it really odd that we have yet to see an advertisement here for the Pre.

    I know the stores will have them because I asked.
    FrostyTS
    • Games?

      What about games?
      Viklund
  • First true multi-tasking smartphone?

    I'm looking forward to the Palm Pre too. I'm not going to buy the phone but it will be very interesting to watch this device and the market place now when we got all these strong platforms.

    But to say that the Palm Pre is the first true multi-tasking smartphone just a big LIE. Apple iPhone DOES multitask. It's just that it doesn't give the users access to it. So that statement is wrong.

    A thing I have been wondering about is this HTML, CSS, Javascript thing and how that is going to work out. Palm has done it pretty easy for themselves buy doing things this way. But I wonder how smart this really is. It must be very easy to get started with development but how are they going to protect the applications for illegal copying and distribution? And the second but biggest question I have is, WHAT ABOUT GAMES? I didn't hear anything mentioned about this under the Plam Pre presentation and I have not seen a single article discuss this either since the Pre announcement which I find truly amazing. To me it seems like the Palm Pre will be the platform without games and as we all know it's the games that are driving the iPhone and iPod Touch platform right now. How are you going to be able to develop OpenGL games in just HTML, CSS and Javascript? No one has answered that question yet... The Pre seems to be an excellent platform for some kind of application but for Games? And what about Office Applications? Can that really be solved with Web Languages alone?
    Viklund
    • A device that multitasks, but doesn't give users access?

      This is a bit of an oxymoron, wouldn't you say? If you don't have access to the multitasking, then it effectively doesn't exist. Sure, Apple can run a few select processes in the background (e-mail push, music and phone notification are the only ones I see), but that isn't multitasking.

      True multitasking allows the user to run multiple applications at once and lets users flip between them. Until I can have my e-mail, contacts, document software, and others open all at once, the iPhone can't be called a multitasking phone.

      As to your other points: I'm willing to bet that web technologies will be sufficient for most programs. I also bet that once the system is more stable that we will see an SDK develop which provides developers more access to the hardware.

      Apple was more or less forced to open up their hardware after the jailbroke community started to crack open their phone. I suspect something similar to happen with the Pre.
      Rob Oakes
      • Multitask access

        If you put a little bit of thought into it, its not hard to hack the iphone to
        give access to using multiple applications. The biggest drawback is
        obviously battery life, but hey, how hard is it to plug it in each night. And
        i'm sure this has probably already been mentioned in another thread, the
        new os3 will fix these concerns.
        Jaetbro
    • flash

      Adobe has already confirmed flash, so I would be interested in seeing how flash games work.
      Hogleg
    • iPhone has multitasking!

      "But to say that the Palm Pre is the first true multi-tasking smartphone just a big LIE. Apple iPhone DOES multitask. It's just that it doesn't give the users access to it. So that statement is wrong."

      That?s like saying my car gets 100 miles per gallon. But Ford won?t turn it on.
      krismartin56
  • Well, the Pre is the first one that ...

    multitasks like a modern PC. All of the other smartphones multitask like Windows 3.1 or Mac OS 7 did -- so poorly you can barely call it multi-tasking.
    jasonhiner
  • web os

    please help me someone, i don't get it. when apple came out with
    the iphone and their web apps concept all the pundits were all over
    it, how poor these web apps are gonna be and that these are not
    real apps because they only use web technolgies like html, css and
    javascript.

    now palm does the same and the same pundits now think that this
    is gonna be a powerful platform. how ist that possible? am i missing
    something?

    and regarding multitasking: it may be poor or even nonexistent on
    the iphone, blackberry, android and symbian devices but running a
    few websites (that's what web apps basically are) is not real
    multitasking. for that matter the safari browser on the iphone or the
    browser on android are running a lot of tabs (websites) side by side
    just fine.
    bannedfromzdnetagain
    • Two things wrong...

      First the you aren't building web apps on WebOS. You are actually building apps that use HTML for layout and Javascript for their code. From what I understand its not like a request response server model.

      Second multiple tabs in a browser is not multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is about being able to run multiple apps at once. For that matter some may have done it before but the best so far is Android. WebOS is actually a step backwards in that aspect.
      storm14k
      • web apps

        if the app on a pre is basically a website (with html, css and javascript)
        how is running two websites side by side in safari on an iphone any
        different than running two web apps on the pre?

        i don't mean server connectivity just handling the same code locally.
        bannedfromzdnetagain
        • As I said...

          unless I am missing something the apps are not web apps. Web apps run in a browser and make requests to a web server. The apps on the Pre do not run in a browser and do not connect to a web server. They are native apps and have direct access to the phone hardware. They simply chose to use these languages because they are familiar to many people.
          storm14k