Thinks of Applications as Activity Cards

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2009-06-23

Why the Palm Pre Is a Major Advancement in Smartphones

When the iPhone was introduced two years ago, it was a paradigm shift in smartphone technology, providing what most people feel is a very natural user interface (no instruction manual was needed), along with a sleek industrial design. I can remember thinking, "It's going to take quite an effort for someone to outdo Apple and create a smartphone that would be better than the iPhone." Palm is betting the company's future on the introduction of the Palm Pre.

Many of us recalled that the Treo was the darling of high technology when it was introduced many years ago. It was the first smartphone with a very intuitive UI and everyone had one. But, all of us in technology are quite fickle-we love what we have until someone comes along and creates something better. Then we all jump ship and move on to the next whiz-bang phone that comes along.

Everyone has compared new smartphones introduced in the past two years with the iPhone, and most have come up short. The Palm Pre is the first I've seen to clearly provide a user experience that's as good as or better than the iPhone. The Pre's UI is a little more natural because it leverages many of the things that Treo did well-particularly the layout of the screen while a call is in process. Plus, it goes further than the iPhone in a number of areas, such as integrating more than one kind of information on a single screen.

Here are 10 reasons I think the Palm Pre is the best smartphone to date:

Reason No. 1: The Palm Pre is the first to fully integrate multitasking

The Palm Pre is the first to fully integrate multitasking that allows a number of applications to be running at the same time. You do this all the time on a PC with windows open for many different applications. But in phones, you typically have to run one application at a time.

Now with Palm's webOS, users can initiate an application to check on sports scores, another to check on the prices of stocks (with alerts), and another to check e-mail-all being done while you're on a call. This will become a standard feature on all smartphones within a few years, but Palm is the first to provide it in a popular smartphone product.

Reason No. 2: The Palm Pre is the first to allow information from multiple sources to be integrated into a single application

The Palm Pre is the first to allow information from multiple sources to be integrated into a single application. This is called Palm Synergy, and it provides developers with the ability to bring together information from the Web or from the storage on the smartphone and make it appear in one place. It's like having a mashup tool kit for the phone. Sure, any application could be hardwired to do this, but Palm Synergy makes it easy for any and all applications to integrate information that way.

The easiest example of this is integrating weather for your present location with the calendar so you can see the weather for the day's appointments. Another neat feature in Palm Synergy: Your conversations with the same person are grouped together in a chat-style view. I expect that we'll see some amazing applications built over the coming years that take advantage of Palm Synergy.

Designed Using Open Web Standards

Reason No. 3: The Palm Pre is designed using open Web standards

The Palm Pre was designed using open Web standards to assist developers in making it very easy to build applications, based on the tools and procedures they have been using to build Web applications (hence the name, webOS). This will allow hundreds of thousands of Web developers to think of webOS as a natural extension of the Web and, therefore, accelerate new applications for the Palm Pre platform.

Reason No. 4: The Palm Pre's on-device App Store is powered by PocketGear

The Palm Pre's on-device App Store is powered by PocketGear, a company that has been working with Palm for many years. The old Palm application store was Web-based. You selected and purchased an application off the Web, and then downloaded it to the phone the next time you docked your Treo or Centro to your PC.

Now the new App Store has been moved over to the Palm Pre, so that same process can be used to select applications in real time while using the device. (Note: similar to the iPhone App Store, the on-device part is just a directory. The actual application is stored, in many cases, on a remote server and the App Store simply selects, manages payment and then downloads it off the server).

Since the Palm development community has already built more than 100,000 applications for the previous Palm Treo/Centro platform-and PocketGear was used to manage the distribution of those applications-this will put the Palm Pre on a fast track so that developers will be able to easily build (or convert) applications for the Pre and get them distributed.

Reason No. 5: The Palm Pre's real, pull-out keyboard is very important for business users

The real, pull-out keyboard is very important for business users who process a number of e-mails and text messages. The iPhone's virtual keyboard is OK, but it doesn't have any tactile feedback. To be sure, the Pre keyboard is somewhat narrow, but the real keyboard has been shown by many research studies to be preferred.

Of course, using both is even better: using the pull-out keyboard when typing something more thoughtful and using the on-screen keyboard to tap a short sequence. The Palm Pre is the first smartphone to include both a real keyboard and provide a touch-screen. It's usually just one or the other.

Reason No. 6: The Palm Pre has solid integration and synchronization with Outlook

Palm Pre's solid integration and synchronization with Outlook makes it easy for many Outlook users (there's well over 500 million of them today) to connect the Pre to their PC and automatically sync with the Contacts and Calendar. And, there's a wireless backup service that makes a copy of your Pre data and saves it on their server. The Pre automatically syncs over-the-air with Outlook, Facebook and Google's Calendar and Contacts. I expect to see more sync services being announced in the coming months.

Thinks of Applications as Activity Cards

Reason No. 7: The Palm Pre thinks of applications as activity cards

The Palm Pre thinks of applications as "activity cards" and lets you flip through them, move them around or throw them away. This takes the idea of an application or data being represented on the display as a "card" that can be easily managed via gestures.

Reason No. 8: The Palm Pre comes with media sync

The Palm Pre comes with media sync that makes it easy to sync up with iTunes, which has now become the default music library on PCs. Apple should commend Palm for honoring iTunes as the PC music library, so users can continue to enjoy building their music library and then play those songs using the Palm Pre while they are out and about.

Reason No. 9: The Palm Pre has built-in e-mail

The Palm Pre has built-in e-mail so that users can easily set up their personal e-mail. And, companies such as Good Technology will provide e-mail services for enterprises (Good Mobile Services) and enhanced services for consumers (Good for You).

Reason No. 10: The Palm Pre's UI goes to the next level

The Palm Pre's UI goes to the next level in smartphones: It's intuitive and classy. You can pick up and move the control bar with your finger, it has pinch and expand, and it's more intuitive than the iPhone-which is achieved by a number of small things that simply make it very natural and easy to use. The way in which multiple Web pages are displayed and rotated, the way things are picked up, and the way to get back to somewhere else all seem to be done in a very well-thought-out and natural manner.

The Palm Pres Future

The Palm Pre's future

As with all new platforms, there are some quirks and bugs that need to be fixed in the Palm Pre, such as: making clipboard cut/copy/paste easier to use; copying portions of a Web page; viewing the phone log; setting the homepage; viewing a summary of events in the Calendar; adding keyboard shortcuts; and adding categories for the Contacts. These will likely be addressed quickly via downloadable system updates over the coming months.

For the next six months, Palm is operating exclusively on the Sprint network. Every Treo or Centro user should consider migrating over to the Pre, and I expect that many Sprint subscribers whose contract expires in the next six months will consider switching over to the Pre.

The longer-term challenge for Palm is what to do after the next six months. It seems clear that it should quickly offer the Pre on Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile as soon as possible. And it should expand internationally. Its webOS and Synergy platforms should make it easier for developers outside the United States to develop applications adapted for the local culture and language.

And I'm sure that the Pre 2.0 is already on the drawing board. My guess: Palm will do a Pre model that has a slide-out keyboard that's horizontal rather than vertical (in the vein of the HTC Android G1). And, at some point, Palm will have to consider licensing webOS to other smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and HTC.

For Palm, the light is finally burning at the end of a rather long, dark tunnel. It has stepped up to the plate and upped the ante in the smartphone wars. It's now up to developers to build some really great applications and users to get excited and tell their friends that they love their Palm Pre. I look forward to testing one of them in the near future.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is the vice president and chief analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month.

For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column.  If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.

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