Palm Pre is close, but no cigar

Don’t get me wrong. Palm’s keynote at CES was impressive (I wasn’t there, but thanks to liveblogging from gdgt, TreoCentral and cnet, I feel like I was). Palm’s webOS platform and Pre smartphone take the best of the iPhone and Google Android, mix them together and fix all their flaws. It’s an excellent smartphone.

And a year ago, maybe even six months ago, that might have mattered.

The mobile market is crowded and getting more crowded. The line between smartphones and feature phones is blurrier than ever, and might be eradicated entirely if Android fulfills its promise to become the dominant “feature phone” OS. Here in the US, the battle lines are drawn, with each major carrier having a preferred smart platform. Verizon has Blackberry, T-Mobile has Android, AT&T has the iPhone, and now Sprint has the Pre. And even there, Palm is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, hitching their wagon to a carrier that is best known in the last few years for hemorrhaging customers and money alike. The Pre doesn’t even support Wimax.

See, here’s the problem. The Pre doesn’t fit. It’s a great smartphone, but that’s not enough anymore. You have to plug into a whole ecosystem to make it work. Palm’s intent is for the Pre (which comes with Exchange OTA sync out of the box) to plug into anything, and it might work, but it’s a longshot.

I’ll be sticking with Windows Mobile for my smartphone needs at least for another year or so. Because I use Microsoft Office on my other PCs, sync my files with Live Mesh, manage my media with Windows Media Player, email with Exchange, manage my photos with Live Photos, etc. I use a Microsoft smartphone because I’ve already bought in to Microsoft services. And services are coming to drive device selection, not the other way around. And Palm, as cool as their new platform is, doesn’t supply services.

Maybe this is where their partner announcements will pay off. Facebook featured prominently in their keynote, as did Google. But can someone other than Google make a better Android than Android? I wouldn’t put money on it. Palm’s last fight will be a good one, they’ll go down swinging, but the ending is not in doubt.

9 thoughts on “Palm Pre is close, but no cigar”

  1. I can’t tell you what Microsoft has in store for Windows Mobile, but I’ve seen some of it, and it’s pretty darn cool. And, unlike Palm, it has a full ecosystem of other applications and services from Microsoft to back it up. It’s a shame, really. Palm gets the fact that integration is everything, but they don’t control what they integrate with the same way Apple, Microsoft and Google do.

  2. Jeff –

    I think you’re wrong. Windows Mobile will be old by the time the Pre emerges, and there will be no new version on the horizon, as Microsoft will be focusing on getting Windows 7 out by year’s end.

    I also think the target markets are different. They may be compressed, but they are different. I know lots of folks who have WinMo phones but no data plans (and no real use for the Windows Mobile on their phones).

    I know you have come to love that platform, after many years on garnet. I think you’ll be back by the end of 2009 and running WebOS.


  3. Who says the market is moving away from Microsoft’s ecosystem? Dell just agreed to replace Google stuff with Live Essentials, Windows 7 is the most eagerly anticipated version of Windows since 95, and nothing can touch Live Mesh for cloud sync. Microsoft is making some of the best software on the market today, but some people have their minds so already made up that they don’t realize it.

  4. Yes, Dell did agree to do that…as part of MONEY deal (i.e. Microsoft paid for space on Dell’s hard drives). That’s hardly an endorsement. Windows Live is a joke, especially search. Google owns that space for good reason – their ecosystem is BETTER. And for that reason Microsoft is in decline.

    Live, much like every other project Microsoft invests in these days, is merely a response – not an innovation. If Google entered the toilet paper business today Microsoft would buy up Proctor&Gamble and be printing rolls of Windows Live shit paper by Friday morning without even fully comprehending why. Look at their schizophrenic business strategy over the past 3 years: Google seach>Live Search – Google Docs>Office Live – cloud computing>Windows Live Services – Adobe Flash>Silverlight – iPod>Zune – Vista>OSX. All were responses – and all were inferior to rivals.

    The only intellectual property Microsoft has executed well is Xbox, and that even was due is no small part to Sony’s blunders.

    Windows 7 the most eagerly awaited version since 95? Who spiked your Kool-aid? 7 is a bailout package – a hasty effort to wipe away the failure of Vista. I’m running the build 7000 right now. It’s largely what Vista should have been from the start – MUCH faster, more stable – but still Windows – an ecosystem in its waning days. Win32 application environment is dated and applications written for this platform are showing their age now. Look a typical desktop app in Vista and compare it to a Cocoa app under Leopard. They are worlds apart. OSX apps look gorgeous, with powerful composition layer and OpenGL graphics. Microsoft attempted to clone that experience with a hack job rendering engine in WPF. Only problem is developers are refusing to develop for it, opting instead to continue writing apps in the XP era Win32 model. The result is the same ugly dated-looking app running inside a shiny translucent window frame. Garbage.

    As for Windows Mobile – it now earns the honor of “least desirable smartphone platform”, looking all the more obsolete by Apple and Google. iPhone is outselling WM, RIM, and the market will see a slew of Android handsets this year. Microsoft’s share of the mobile pie will shrink right along its share of the browser and desktop markets.

  5. (continued)

    I hope that I am wrong and that Palm carries on with the attributes of relative simplicity of use and robustness that I have come to rely on both personally and professionally.

  6. WinMo sold 20 million handsets last year. The iPhone sold 10 million. WinMo isn’t a dying platform just yet, and with Windows 7 and everything else, Windows is shaping up to make a comeback in a big way.

    I love what Palm have done here. The Pre is sexy, it’s fast, and it seems to be really stable. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares in the GSM world 🙂

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