Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thoughts on Palm Pre

Of course, I've seen Palm's keynote from CES 2009. I've also read quite a few blogs, comments on the topic and now would like to share my impressions about it.

First of all, I liked the device! It looks great, the addition of a QWERTY-keyboard makes it even more complete. The UI looks intuitive, I pretty much liked the introduced card system, where you could switch between running applications. In general it's a fancy device with a high WOW-factor.

Then, what else? Well, my first impression was that it's a copy device, an iClone. It's just a better iPhone, not as if it was not a remarkable thing alone. Nevertheless, I have a few questions on copying a bestselling device in general:
  • Is that allowed to sell a very similar device with some enhancements? I'm pretty sure that Apple patented a lot of things and I'm surprised to see the same multi-touch functionality to be present in Palm Pre, for example.
  • Is that nice? Does it make good to Palm's reputation that everyone knows that "iPhone was the first"? I'm pretty sure, though, that Palm will not feel sorry if it's profitable and legally okay.
  • Will this strategy work at all? As Michael Mace greatly puts it: "... Pre is a better e-mail device than the iPhone and a better consumer device than a Blackberry ... [but] it's probably a worse entertainment device than the iPhone (because it doesn't have iTunes) and probably a worse e-mail device than RIM (because it doesn't have RIM's server infrastructure)." The thing is that we don't know too much other than a technical specification. How much will it cost? What services will be available for the user? In general, why users will want to buy Pre instead of other competing products? And lots of other questions, partly covered below.
I wonder how it will work out that Palm is fighting against such competitors who have existing products in their portfolio. Pre is said to be available in H1/2009 in Sprint's network, but no news about pricing policy, international availability, etc. yet. If Palm will be able to ship this product with such a great technical parameters, their top-priority will (have to) be to build an ecosystem around it. That most importantly means services that 1: give Palm post-sales revenue and 2: tempt users to choose rather Palm's device than any other competitor's. In addition to that, developers must be inspired to make great applications that boost 3rd-party business, too.

In fact, development on Palm is a big question mark to me. You know, I've never been into Palm development, but what I've read from others on this topic was that 1: WebOS is a completely new software architecture, 2: with no backward compatibility. In other words, old applications will not run on the new device. I mean, it's not only that you have to make some tweaking on your existing software and then it will run in the new environment (think of the introduction of Platform Security in Symbian and what that meant to old software), but you have to completely re-write it and even then it's not guaranteed that it will work. Why? Because the keyword for the new SDK is that it's about web-development. Palm toed the line by supporting WebKit (their browser is based on it) and it's great that there's a common platform available on most smartphones by now. Well, Microsoft still resists and I bet that they will always do. In general that means that the boundary between mobile- and full web becomes more and more blurred, but that alone doesn't give you the promise of "Mobile development Paradise". Why? Because you simply can't solve everything with the HTML/CSS/JavaScript trinity. How will you develop your own VoIP, image processing, gaming, etc. application with this technology stack, for example? It's simply not the right tool for a lot of things in software development as in fact no one technology stack can be. But if you limit yourself to one then you eventually shrink your software market. I'm not saying that it will be the only way for development in the future, however, at least it was the message that I got from the keynote.

Finally, two features that captured my attention for different reasons:
  • Multi-tasking, i.e. being able to run more than one application in parallel. Everybody is keen on that and points out that how great it is compared to the iPhone. And then what? I think it's not an innovation at all - I would say that what's the innovation in the 21st century of NOT being able to do that. Damn, Apple was better again in doing that. :)
  • Card-system. Everyone who's seen the keynote or any preview can tell that it's about accessing simultaneously running applications: different apps are shown in a list as playing cards and can be manipulated in a very intuitive way. No doubt, it's a great idea and I'd be happy to use it on other phones, too.
Comments are welcome,


Update: this post has been included in Carnival of the Mobilists 157. Check it out for other interesting articles about mobile topics!

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