The Palm Pre – Six Months Out

So here we are, over 6 months from the launch of the Palm Pre.  It’s been an exciting time.  We’ve seen a number of incremental firmware updates squashing bugs and improving features. We’ve seen the introduction of paid apps, and with it, the expansion of the app catalog to over 600 apps, with about a dozen new apps a day.  We’ve also seen the launch of the Pixi, a stripped down Pre designed to appeal to first time smartphone buyers in a svelte candybar format.

On the other hand, we haven’t seen the Pre or Pixi spread to any other carriers, and we’ve seen the launch of the Droid, and with that, all manner of analyst write-ups signaling the end of Palm.  It makes sense that, with big red’s media blitz of all things “Droooooid,” eyes would glass over a bit, but it’s way too soon to count Palm out, especially considering that the Droid, while much prettier than previous Android phones, is still running the same OS that was in the marketplace when the Pre launched 6 months ago.

That said, it’s crystal clear that Palm has a couple of moves it needs to make once we get through this long December.

1. Carriers

It’s been absolutely beat to death, but it needs to be said again and again.  Sprint is bleeding out, and no matter how sexy your hardware, it just isn’t a carrier most people are willing to move to to get your phone.  This is a soft spot for me, since I migrated to the Pre with my fiancee because we wanted to be on Sprint.  Since we’re both heavy data users, the Sprint Family Data plan was by about 40-50.00 the cheapest plan available on any carrier.  129.00 a month gets us basically unlimited voice (especially with unlimited mobile to mobile going to any carrier’s cellphone), unlimited text, and unlimited data.  It just can’t be done cheaper anywhere else.

But, people still hate Sprint, and if Palm is going to have a chance at the kind of super adoption it needs, they need to cell the phone through more carriers.  Verizon is an obvious choice, and has been mentioned most often, but along with that, I think it’s important to offer a GSM version compatible with AT&T.  The lack of Iphone competitors on AT&T certainly makes that possibility look bleak, but instead, I’d recommend offering an unlocked GSM version for direct retail sale, as they did with the Treo Pro.  If they can get the retail price to a reasonable point (sub $500.00), while they might not move a ton of units, they will gain a huge amount of mindshare just by being available.

2. Multimedia

The WebOS platform is still lagging as a media device.  There’s been considerable (wasted) effort to continue the cat and mouse game of hacking itunes compatibility.  That effort is useless if the Pre is not where I want to keep my music.  I’ve already replaced the default music player with the remixed homebrew version by Hedami Software.  This should be a major point of focus, especially since Palm is going after the consumer market.  It could also be a huge point of distinction between WebOS and the equally anemic media qualities of Android.

3. Native Apps

WebOS is amazing in how it uses web standards to build apps.  Having zero prior experience programming, I was able to build a working (but ugly and buggy) game in a couple of days.  It absolutely lowers the barrier to app creation, and with Palm’s upcoming Ares platform, all the budding developer will need is a dream and some time.  That said, the lack of graphically intensive apps, especially games on the platform is a major limitation of the platform and something that, ultimately, will not make it a decent alternative to people sucked in by Apple’s gravitational pull.  Palm needs to turn on that graphics chip collecting dust inside the Pre and give developers a way to get at it, it’s that simple.

4. Community Involvement

I mentioned that my solution to the gimpy media player was to install a homebrewed alternative.  There are hundreds of community made patches that improve, fix, or augment bits of the platform.  For example, in the unpatched email program, if you swipe an email off the screen (a common WebOS gesture), you delete it.  I mean, you seriously delete it.  It’s gone buddy, hope you didn’t need it.  There’s a patch that enables a confirmation to appear under the swiped away email “delete, or cancel.” It’s simple, and absolutely necessary.  I think one surefire way for Palm to get ahead, being the substantially smaller than Google and Apple and Rim and Microsoft company that it is, is to incorporate the best of these patches into their updates.  Just give credit for community contributions on a credits page somewhere.  You have a passionate community that is working hard to improve this phone, so it should be used wherever the community has succeeded.

That’s pretty much it.  There’s still plenty of room in this market for competition, but Palm definitely needs to be already thinking about WebOS 2.0, and where to take the platform next year to stay one step ahead of the next Iphone if they’re going to have a shot.  Here’s hoping they do.

About Khidr

I'm an entertainment lawyer and musician. One of the two guys who founded this site with the hopes of adding distinct voices to the entertainment industry.