For months there’s a been a lot of speculation going on about the Pre. From launch date to full feature specs and a host of other rumors about follow on devices, like the mythical Eos.
I tend not to engage in a whole lot of rumor speculation but here’s how I see the Pre and WebOS as we stand a week before the formal launch. While lots of folks still talk about how late Palm is to the game, I think we’re still pretty early in terms of the mass market smartphone. Sure, folks like of us have been using devices for years but for the mainstream consumer, it’s all about moving from a feature phone to high end device for the first time.
In terms of Web OS, Palm Synergy remains the real story here. Palm really understands the nature of how information has evolved and where it lives and how users desire to have their mobile device intersect both their business and personal lives. Palm understood this in the day of the Palm Pilot and they get it now. Personal information management is still the table stakes that the mass market will look for in these devices and Palm’s got something at the moment that no one else really has, even Apple. Yes, there’s support for corporate use for Exchange but that’s not where the magic lies. At the core of Web OS is the equivalent of an object oriented file story under the covers that makes the magic happen (something Microsoft’s been looking to do since the Cairo days, one could actually call Web OS Cairo Mobile).
Synergy, if it works as demoed, will be one of the major things that drives device adoption. It shows a fundamental understanding that users don’t just have their information neatly organized at the desktop but in the cloud as well in places like Facebook and allows users to unite them in a single store of information. The ability to sync that information into one common store is as important today as Outlook sync was a decade ago. Perhaps even more so. For me, it’s a killer feature that will define the platform.
I had been concerned about desktop sync for both media and personal information. Given that Palm hadn’t really discussed sync, except for cloud based solutions, I was concerned that we’d be faced with another G1 scenario with no links to the PC. Today, Palm alleviated those issues for me. While the Pre’s, media functions look fine one still needs to get content on the device. Even enterprise focused RIM offers a sync solution for getting iTunes content to a Blackberry. The good news is Palm offers three modes of USB connection including media sync from iTunes. This is excellent. Along with that, Palm has worked with MarkSpace and Chapura to make sure there are good sync option’s available for getting PIM information across and an option for a one time transfer of data (and then using the cloud from then on) As I’ve said many times. Control Sync, Control the World. Palm’s done a good job with covering the basis here, better than I had expected when they first started to discuss sync.
But there’s one potential weakness well and here’s the downside. I still hear from App vendors concerns about limits in what they can do as Palm’s not exposing the full Linux layer. I’m of mixed mind here. Yes, that might mean high end 3D games are not going to be in the first mix of apps. But will that matter? There’s plenty of games and other apps Palm developers could do to make the platform attractive enough for most users purposes. We’ve already seen apps like Pandora can be done rather well and even run as a background task. This one’s a wait and see and a lot will depend on Palm capturing developer mindshare. I’m a little skeptical but then again, Palm doesn’t need every app vendor, just enough of the good ones, done in a way that make them stand out. Oddly, this is exactly the argument Apple used to make against Microsoft about the PC desktop.
The smartphone market has changed dramatically over the last eighteen months. It’s a nascent market that’s still dominated by the early adopter. All that’s changing and changing fast. Palm has a major opportunity to carve out some space here. Now, all we need is that launch date and a roadmap for the devices beyond the Pre. I should have a device here shortly, so look for my first take soon.
So, what do you think? Are Palm’s efforts (at least what we know) appealing to you? Would you make the leap to Pre? Why or why not?