How is Palm Going to Mess up the Palm Pre?

Palm has recently announced its first really new product in years, the Palm Pre. To be fair, the product is actually quite compelling. It runs a on its webOS, a cool new operating system that allows you to use a bunch of different applications at once.

[… the history …]

My father is a business guy. He has been in retail since before I was born. When I was a young child he carried around a Filofax with hundreds of business cards, This (almost) little booklet was my father’s life. He couldn’t survive without it. Wherever he went, the Filofax went. As technology improved my dad found the Palm. I believe his first Palm Pilot was a Palm III. Overnight he converted his Filofax to the Palm Pilot. As the years wore on I became a fan. I bought a Handspring Visor, and used it to keep my contacts organized, tried to keep a calendar, and maybe played the occasional game.

Then I got frustrated with Palm. They began to cease innovation. The Palm V, might have been the best palm over. Over the years we have heard rumors of a new Palm OS. One built on Linux, but the promises kept coming, without any products. The applications for the Palm became outdated. I moved away from the Palm, even trying the Sharp Zaurus, a Linux based PDA that promised easier development and a better product.

None of them really got me hooked. They were too big, too bulky, too much for me carry around on the average day. My PDA was a toy that I’d take with me if I felt like it.

Enter the mobile phone. Even before the Filofax my father had a cell phone. As technology got smaller, PDAs began to morph with mobile phones. There have been a bunch of operating systems for these phones: Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Sony Erickson, etc. Finally I could get by with one device. The first phone that really allowed me to do this was my T-Mobile Sidekick. Yeah, it was big, but it wasn’t overly expensive and it allowed me to do everything I really wanted/needed to do, minus playing MP3s.

[… Back to the (almost) present …]

A few years ago Apple announced the iPhone, and the players in the market were pretty sure that Apple was not going to be a major player in the mobile phone space. Mostly, I refer to this Daring Fireball article. They were a little taken back with the amount of demand for the iPhone when it came it. Still, Apple kept very rigid control over the applications on the device, and many thought that Apple wouldn’t allow developers to mess with their device. Over time, Apple rolled out a development platform, and the App Store. Now there are thousands of additional applications for the iPhone and it the second most popular handset in the market.

Welcome to today. Palm is finally announcing their next OS, along with a new phone. The comical part for me is that the new Palm OS looks surprisingly similar to the iPhone OS, with gestures and other iPhone innovations. There are a couple of Palm innovations that look appealing:

  • Cards allow you to have multiple instances of the same Application running at the same time instead of “Save as Draft and come back later” mentality of the iPhone
  • Better integration with Facebook and other web partners, allowing you get personal photos from their partners
  • Multiple Calendar systems: Google Calendar and my personal calendar on one device, and allowing you to block out time in each

Despite the interesting features of the Pre, I still think it isn’t going to work. One of the lines in their introduction video is “We Developed the Pre for the developers” (paraphrased). See, I’m really excited about the Pre from a developers perspective. How many typical users have 3 different calendaring systems? How many professionals use Facebook for contact photos? The thing that Apple does well is design a product for the consumers. Remember, while developers might buy your phone, they aren’t going to develop just for other developers. The money is in the consumer market.

With all this in mind, I’m still excited to see what the Pre can deliver. I’m keeping my hope in check, because I’ve seen Palm falter in the past.

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