Is the Palm Pre the iPhone killer?

Palm Pre picture procured from (there goes the alliteration!)

Palm Pre picture procured from (there goes the alliteration!)

[We interrupt this blog entry with a very important announcement. No Palm Pre or iPhone 3GS was physically handled nor fiddled with before and during the course of writing the piece below. As of posting time, only the iPhone 3GS is available in the Philippines. Palm has yet to make an announcement regarding its Pre’s Asian foray.]

Is Palm Pre the iPhone killer?

Depends who you’re asking.

Folks at Sunnyvale, California – Palm Inc.’s headquarters – would like to think so.

In fact, the company’s betting the farm on its latest gadget, a WiFi-enabled, bluetooth-compatible, GPS built-in, touch screen mobile device that is shorter but thicker than the latest smartphone from that company over in Cupertino.

The Pre is Palm’s strongest bid to show both allies and antagonists that yes, its mojo remains intact despite its market share (3.9 percent, compared to iPhone’s 19.5 percent and Blackberry’s 55.3 percent in the US).

Much is riding on the success of this eight-gigabyte, iTunes-friendly, $199 mobile handheld, including the business acumen of newly-appointed CEO Jon Rubinstein, who helped develop the iPod.

The Pre is expected to boost phone sales (which have plunged 42 percent year-over-year to 482,000 in February) and increase the company’s share prices (down by 73 percent since March.)

Launched last June 6 in the US, the device sports curves so embarrassingly sleek it makes its chunky predecessors look like they were designed by Soviet engineers fuelled by bad vodka.

Unlike the iPhone, the Pre features a slideout keyboard that has earned two thumbs up for its “solid typing experience,” according to an review.

But two-handed typing, no matter how comfortable, isn’t all the Pre offers: it also boasts an ingenious multitasking interface in the shape of “activity cards.”

Each card represents an application: say, the phone’s dialpad should you wish to make a call using the touchscreen or its built-in internet messaging (IM) software (that combines SMS and online conversations in just one view; useful in replying via text messaging to an IM chat).

Each active card is prominently set at the center, occupying around two-thirds of the screen’s precious real-estate.

It’s an elegant way of maximizing the Palm’s screen, which is a fourth of an inch smaller than the iPhone’s 3.5 display.

With more than one card open, you can switch between multiple applications at the swipe of a finger – faster and easier than thumbing through a Daiana Menezes centerfold – without going back to the Launcher, the OS’s main menu.

With this multitasking power, you can (for instance) put the Pre on speakerphone, call up your rich spinster aunt and switch to the Memo app to find out what inheritance issues you should settle before the old biddy goes into the hospital for heart surgery.

With older Palm smartphones such as the Treo 650, you’d have had to go back to the main menu and launch an application while you were talking to Tiya Moding in Mangatarem.

By the time you’d finished all the fumbling and gotten around to discussing the will, she probably would already have signed over the whole hacienda to your evil idiot brother who happened to be using a Nokia 5110.

The secret behind the Pre’s multitasking magic is a brand-new operating system: Palm has finally said goodbye to PalmOS and introduced its successor – webOS.

The new system integrates the Pre’s programs into a seamless whole: the company claims the OS will automatically integrate all your contacts, email and Web 2.0 info into one view.

In addition, virtually all of the device’s apps work with the Internet – right down to “over-the-air” backups and updates, including data erasure should your phone be lost, stolen, or used by jealous partners for blackmail.

Those Palm fanatics stuck with dozens of PalmOS apps will be happy to know that the Pre will have an emulator that will allow it to run many legacy programs.

Will the Pre’s features defeat competition? Not necessarily.

News of the Apple iPhone’s death – supposedly resulting from the Pre’s launch – is greatly exaggerated.

Just two days after the Pre launched, Apple introduced its newest iPhone, the 3GS.

Not only is it faster that the two previous iPhone incarnations, it also allows users to shoot and edit videos, all in a package slightly longer yet thinner than a pack of cigarettes.

And get this: the eight gig entry-level model is just $99 (with a plan), half the price of the Pre, which can only play – not shoot nor edit –  videos.

The lack of video recording and editing may be a dealbreaker for some, including those indifferent to the online directorial debut of Hayden Kho.

Palm should have known better than to cheat its friends (and users) and waste the chance it has been given with the Pre.

To compensate for this oversight, the gadget has a good camera, according to

Besides having a flash, the Pre’s 3.2 megapixel camera has significantly reduced shutter lag time, useful for instantly documenting encounters with celebrities and their respective wardrobe malfunctions, should these occur.

However, the camera alone may be insufficient to create converts nor attract old members of the Palm faithful.

Even before the Pre’s US launch, local Palm smartphone users have already been dismayed by the company’s rush to maximize profits.

Although they were impressed by the Pre’s Touchstone — which allows for wireless battery recharging — they were surprised to learn that the technology involved accessories to be sold separately.

But at the same time, brand loyalty does go the extra mile.

Despite these sore points, a number have agreed to consider getting the Pre once it reaches this side of the Pacific.

Ederic Eder, who uses a Palm Centro but keeps his Treo 650 handy, told this writer that the Pre is “superior” to the iPhone 3GS.

While he recognized that it would be “hard” to defeat the iPhone, the Pre’s features — multitasking capability, physical keyboard, removable battery, wireless charging, unified messaging, among others — “offers useful newness.”

So for fat cats, rich kids, and those with some cash to spare, even in a crisis that has claimed millions of jobs, what will it be? A Palm Pre or an iPhone 3GS? The jury is still out.

Unfortunately, enthusiasts in the Philippines might have to wait a while before they get their hands on the device.

Palm is reportedly concentrating on marketing the Pre in the US and Europe and has so far been silent about when it will introduce its product in Asia.

Globe Telecom Inc., the country’s exclusive iPhone distributor, has already announced that the 3GS is now locally available.

For its part, Smart Communications Inc. has yet to reply to queries made about the Palm Pre.


From the Thanks, God Dept. Minimal editing for this piece was rendered by Mr. Allan Robles, the Philippine correspondent of the South China Morning Post.


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