The Pre challenge
As much as can be gleaned from a presentation, Pre does two things better than all the other iPhone competitors so far: attack Apple’s weak points and advance the art of mobile device design in its own right. There are the obvious ones iPhone naysayers have been quick to highlight: physical keyboard, pervasive multitasking, background processing, removable battery, Bluetooth stereo, camera flash and, of course, copy & paste.
More significantly, however, Pre goes beyond the iPhone in some interesting ways. Its TI OMAP 3430 processor is the highest performance, most power-efficient processor available from the ARM family. Pre is the first major phone with an optional back that can magnetically attach to a conductive device for charging wirelessly. Optimized for on-the-go, one-hand operation, it incorporates a “gesture bar” at the bottom that stands apart visually from the screen but is integral to it in being able to initiate a number of device-wide gestures. But what really separates Pre from all other iPhone-killers is the uniquely Apple-like systems thinking that has resulted in what Palm calls Cards and Synergy, as parts of its new Web OS.
Cards is like Mac OS X Exposé in that, with a gesture, all running apps/windows are scaled down as a horizontal strip of small “cards.” Users can not only drag, re-arrange and flick these apps/windows off the screen, but also interact with them as they continue to be active.
Synergy, on the other hand, exposes Apple’s hitherto weak spot in social computing. Pre can seamlessly integrate multiple email, SMS, IM and social network accounts by keeping data separate but presentation unified. This also allows users to branch off into any of those services from within any entry point, without having to switch accounts or applications.
System-wide as well as cloud-based live search, local storage via HTML5, visual WebKit bookmarks, unified calendaring, unobtrusive notifications and a number of other software features indicate that, unlike other iPhone-killers, Palm has thought through a variety of pain points currently besetting the iPhone. Pre’s interface consistency goes much deeper than the few splashy touch-based screens we’ve come to expect from the recent crop of iPhone-killers that fall back to WIMP ugliness as soon as users navigate one or two levels down into an app.
This is an excellent analysis.
I never sat down with a checklist of things the iPhone was missing or what I thought I wanted it to have (aside from applications — from third parties — and those bases are now nearly covered), so seeing everything put into words for me in the above was a Yes! moment for me.
I like the iPhone, I won’t throw dirt at it, but I have to admit that compared to the Pre, it seems like the Newton compared to the original Palm Pilot: suddenly passé.