Palm Skips “Me Too” Generation To Deliver Pre

With the announcement of webOS and the Palm Pre, Palm has been able to turn the smartphone market on it’s collective ear. Promised for a Q2 2009 release, the Palm Pre has become the media darling of so many technology bloggers and deservedly so. Last year at this time, Palm CEO Ed Colligan promised that the "first half fiscal 09  to be a turning point in the business". Thanks to strong sales of the Palm Centro, the company continued to stay the course, despite a barrage of criticism pleading with the company to deliver an update to their line of devices powered by the aging Palm OS. Rather than cave to the pressures of online and print media, Palm continued to develop and design a revolutionary OS that would provide the company with a foundation that will allow for a ever-growing product line of webOS enable devices.

2008 Becomes Year of the Clones

If we look back at 2008, the smartphone market was littered with “me too” clones of Apple’s iPhone, many of whom were self-proclaimed “iPhone killers”. In reality, the lifespan of these product lines will be limited and they lack a solid platform that will enable them to turn into a sustainable product line. Some have been lucky enough to release 2nd generation models, but there was absolutely nothing earth-shattering and certainly nothing that would cause concern amongst senior executives in Cupertino.

No Detail Is Small

Revisiting the Fat Middle

Delivering a product that looks, feels, but under-performs the market leader is not a way to capture the hearts and minds of consumers, let alone their pocketbook (or wallets). While many companies were busy following Apple, Palm decided to get revolutionary. Sure there are some characteristics of webOS that appear to be influenced by Apple’s iPhone and that’s natural. In fact, the company hired an Apple designer back in 2007 to help the company compete with the iPhone. To this day, the Phone app on the iPhone looks similar to Palm’s phone app that debuted on the Treo 680. The difference between what Palm has done with webOS is in stark contrast to the clones. Palm was able to take the best in class features available in the marketplace and deliver them in one definable product. While I’m hesitant to call the Pre a runaway success, my slightly less than hands-on experience at CES suggests that Palm’s new Pre phone is in a class by it self. Ed Colligan called it the fat middle. The most popular devices on the market right now would be the BlackBerry Bold and the iPhone 3G. The Palm Pre fits neatly in the middle of those devices. I regularly use both devices, swapping my SIM card with regularity. Both devices are great, but I find that each has voids. Browsing is much better on the iPhone thanks to the WebKit browser, whereas the Bold’s browser can get bogged down especially when encountering pages employing Javascript.

Having used the iPhone since it’s inception, I’m plenty capable when it comes to typing. For some, the keyboard on the iPhone is more than sufficient, but there is a substantial market for those who prefer the tactile response only found with a QWERTY keyboard. Here is where the Pre fits and where I think Palm finds the “fat middle”. The Palm Pre offers all the media-centric features of the iPhone coupled with a browser that is on par with Apple’s Safari. Those who find fault with virtual keyboards won’t have that obstacle with the Pre. Point being that the Pre finds itself with a set of specifications and features that cannot be found using either a BlackBerry Bold or an iPhone 3G. Apple plans to offer a host of improvements with their iPhone OS 3.0 release and many have pitted the new software update versus the Pre. This will not have an affect on the hardware, unless Apple unveils a new iPhone that includes a QWERTY keyboard. That’s not likely given Steve Jobs obsession over the beautification of Apple’s products. I’ll never quite understand how a QWERTY diminishes the look of a product.

To create a successful mobile platform takes time. Consumers are not looking for "me too" products. Products that drive innovation result will usually have a positive effect on sales. Palm could have followed the crowd and we would all be left wanting more. Instead, the company is on the brink of delivering a platform that will drive the companies products and revenues for the next ten years. Will anyone be asking about the so-called smartphones that were released in 2008? They will remember the Palm Pre and a revolutionary OS that turned around Palm.

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