Many Palm Pre reviews are out before the device’s public release tomorrow (competing with “iPhone 3.0” announcement Monday). They include, most notably, The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg and The New York Times’ David Pogue.
The verdict is that the Pre has lots of attractive features that make it a suitable competitor to the iPhone. Mossberg goes as far as saying it’s the “strongest rival to the iPhone to date.” But the question that will continued to be asked is the tired speculation over whether it’s an “iPhone killer.”
These reviews conversely position the Pre as “good enough” to compete with the iPhone. But the issue is that it has to be “much better” in order to compete with the iPhone’s momentum, installed base and Apple halo. Not to mention that a certain premium appeal must be attained to get many users to switch to Sprint, the Pre’s exclusive carrier.
For iPhone users in particular, consider that they’d have to pay to abandon their AT&T contracts (all iPhone 3G owners are less than a year into a two-year contract), as well as the many apps they’ve spent time and money collecting.
Of course the iPhone has its fair share of deficiencies and the Pre answers two of the top complaints: lack of a physical keyboard and the OS’ inability to run “background apps” (running more than one app at a time). This is not only an issue for users but also for app developers deciding where to apply limited resources.
The latter is mostly a numbers game at reaching the most users or targeting specific groups. But one important criterion for deciding which device to build a native app for is simply the technical abilities of the platform and how they match up to the application’s goals.
This was an issue for the recently launched Glympse in opting for Android over iPhone. Its app works optimally with constant connectivity — something that isn’t possible with the iPhone’s lack of background functionality.
Most of the iPhone and Pre coverage over the next few days will focus on the user features and gadgetry. And rightly so — usage penetration will be a vital competitive arena in the coming months. But a long-term implication of all this is how these devices and platforms are more or less attractive to app developers.
All About the Apps
It’s the applications — not just device sex appeal — that will drive sales. In that respect, Apple’s App Store is currently the top dog with 40,000 apps. That’s mostly from a user perspective. From a developer perspective, that’s less of a selling point than it is a challenge — marketing apps requires rising above a lot of noise.
New app stores like BlackBerry’s App World, Nokia’s Ovi Store and Palm’s App Catalog (12 apps) will conversely represent virgin territory for app developers to come in and take advantage of the early mover opportunity that is all but gone for iPhone apps.
Then again, it’s a bigger risk if you consider uncertain penetration and engagement levels on these newer devices and application marketplaces. The iPhone comes with the benefit of lots of usage data, including demographic targeting. As mentioned yesterday, Yelp saw the iPhone app as a “no-brainer” to reach its target audience.
The Pre comes with much less certainty for both users and app developers. But in terms of features it seems to stack up well so far. It’s hard to compare before Apple hits the reset button on that comparison with Monday’s iPhone announcement. For now you’ll find no shortage of exhaustive reviews of the Pre. Beware of “iPhone killer” claims.