CES: The Palm Pre, 24 Hours Later

pre.jpgI’ve been digesting my thoughts from yesterday about the Palm Pre, and spent some more time with the device today (disclosure: while checking out the device in Palm’s demo area, they provided me with a small sandwich). I think that I was a bit too cynical, and the experience of several years of not seeing anything interesting or particularly innovative come out of Palm made me prejudicial. So with that bit of crow out of the way…

I think the Pre is pretty damn cool.

The Pre alone won’t be enough to save Palm, but it and the new webOS platform are a solid foundation upon which the company can build. If the Pre is the beginning of the innovation, not the end of it, Palm will have saved itself. It’s a radical departure from the company’s previous MO, which was not only much-needed, but pretty brave. And the results are pretty great.

I want to revisit a few things I wrote yesterday in my liveblog:

“I have a feeling that the significantly changed OS will alienate a lot of Palm’s most hardcore fans.”

So what? People who think Palm OS is still the best thing on earth (there are still some out there) aren’t representative of the wider market, and if reaching more people means leaving some of those hardcore fanboys behind, that’s a good thing, since these people’s support wasn’t enough to lift Palm out of its last few years of poor results. What Palm has needed to do for some time is to leave the Palm Pilot legacy behind, and catch up to a very different computing, social and mobile environment — and they’ve done that.

I think that’s what Palm has done here. They’ve generally met the bar set by other software platforms, not raised it.

Honestly, if this is where the bar is, it says a lot about the state of the handset business. Also, plenty of other handsets fall well short of this level, so it’s nothing to sniff at. There are still other handsets with superior hardware in some ways (camera, video functionality, expandable memory and so on), but the software here does an excellent job of marrying social networks, email, IM and other info with the contacts list. Other people are doing this, too, like INQ, but a lot of people either aren’t doing it, or are making a real mess of it.

Many of the apps also have a very strong likeness to the iPhone…

Again, so what? While I am weary of people claiming to be the first to offer something, it’s sort of irrelevant. Taking ideas that work from other people and building on them is how the business works (and rightly so). Knowing that Qix on Symbian offered similar on-device search functionality is the sort of thing people like me care about, not your average normob. The device’s functionality, not whether Palm is the first to offer it, is what people will care about.

“Gestures”= The redux of Graffiti, ie somehing that most people won’t bother to learn?

Nope, I think the touch UI on the Pre is more intuitive than the iPhone.

still going on about “Synergy”, now talking about it in email, where it aggregates all your email accounts and contacts. Again, nice, but hardly seems to be the innovation they think it is…

Actually, this is pretty innovative. It’s something that I (and plenty of other people) have been talking about for a while. But it’s something that very few people are putting into practice. Also, it doesn’t look like Palm is trying to force people into siloed services, it works with all of their current internet favorites. One thing that really struck me today was hearing Palm’s VP of design answer a question about syncing by saying the Pre isn’t designed to have to sync to a PC, it just grabs all the relevant info from a users’ social networks, email/Exchange accounts and so on. That’s the sort of talk that may alienate some of the older Treo hardcore, but it’s the sort of thinking that reflects the current internet and mobile environment. The mobile isn’t an adjunct to the PC, it’s the center of its users’ social lives. Palm has also integrated various communications channels together in a very intelligent way

I still have some reservations about the Pre. I still think that Sprint’s brand is pretty damaged in the eyes of many US consumers, so the exclusivity will hamper the device. I’m also curious about just what third-party developers will be able to do in webOS. Like Mike Rowehl, I’m curious to see how creating native apps with web technologies will work, in particular, how those technologies will access device functions. But in all, I think those are relatively minor concerns in the face of what’s a very exciting device.

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