The iPhone is the leader in the smartphone space. It provides a compelling experience with the help of its outstanding software and functional touch-screen. It also extends its feature-set with the help of a variety of applications — 50,000 at last count — that range from productivity to gaming.
Realizing that, a variety of iPhone competitors followed suit. T-Mobile’s G1, a Google Android-based device, sporting a touch-screen, has a Marketplace where users can download applications. Many of those apps (but certainly not all) were ported from the iPhone. RIM’s BlackBerry App World is also a fine place to find applications for the company’s BlackBerry Bold or BlackBerry Storm. Like the Android Marketplace, RIM’s BlackBerry App World isn’t as big as the Apple App Store, but it’s growing. Microsoft is on its way to releasing an app store of its own for its Windows Mobile operating system. It’s not available yet, but the company promises it will compete on the same level as Apple’s store.
But there’s one more company — Palm — that has yet to provide that added value to users. Although the company’s Pre is being touted as one of the best iPhone competitors on the market, that company uses a platform called webOS to bring apps to the product. There’s just one problem: developers that have been easily porting their applications from one platform to another can’t do that with the Pre.
Although the Pre is a fine device, it’s an anomaly in today’s market. Unlike its competitors, which have thousands of applications available on their platforms, Palm’s Pre has just 30 applications available in its App Catalog. And unfortunately, there’s little chance that Palm will be bringing more apps to the device anytime soon.
Palm’s SDK deployment has slowed. Last week, the company’s Developer Community manager, Chuq Von Rospach, said that although Palm wants to bring the SDK to developers quickly so they can start developing for webOS, “the software and the developer services to support it just aren’t ready yet.” Palm expects the SDK to be available by the end of the summer.
Is that too late? Palm’s launch wasn’t an unbridled success. According to the company, it sold 50,000 Palm Pre devices during its first weekend of availability. Compare that to Apple’s announcement that it sold more than 1 million iPhone 3G S units in its first weekend of availability and it quickly becomes clear that Palm has some work to do. But getting to work on that SDK is paramount.
Applications Are Key
As a device, the Palm Pre is a fine alternative to the iPhone. Its multitasking features are second to none, it has a beautiful display, and its touch-screen works just as well as the iPhone’s. It’s even priced right. But it’s the device’s lack of applications that holds it back. iPhone users can extend the functionality of their mobile experience. They can enjoy a variety of features through the App Store that they simply can’t with the default applications.
That’s not the case with the Pre. For the most part, what the user sees when they start the Pre for the first time is what they get. And if those 30 applications just don’t appeal to them, they have no chance of extending that functionality. Something needs to be done.
Palm knows that. Von Rospach said in the same blog statement that Palm will “begin publishing more content outside the early access program” as soon as it can. It will also accelerate its program to get “thousands” of developers creating applications as quickly as possible.
It’s a smart move. Without the support of applications, the value proposition for users just isn’t high enough. Enterprise customers won’t have the mobile business apps that could help them perform their basic duties. And consumers who want mobile social networking apps or video games will be disappointed with the Pre. While all their friends are using touch-screen smartphones to communicate with others outside of SMS, they’ll be left wondering why they can’t do the same. It’s a real problem.
If the Palm Pre is to survive in the highly competitive mobile phone market, applications are the keys to success. Without them, the Pre will look like a hobbled iPhone competitor. With them, it can compete on the same level as the leader in the space.
But getting those applications to the device is step one. So far, there is little chance that Palm will match the iPhone’s 50,000 apps anytime soon. And as more consumers see those apps and try them out in the store, it will only be a matter of time before they pick the device with the best applications. In that case, it will be the iPhone and not the Pre, that will come out on top. For Palm, that could mean big trouble. And possibly, the end of the company’s mobile unit as we know it.