When I reviewed the Palm Pre a few weeks ago, I lauded the device for so doing so much to catch up with the iPhone, but concluded that more needed to be done before it could be considered as serious competition. As we’ve seen time and time again, it simply isn’t good enough to create a product that matches Apple’s current offerings, you need to beat whatever Apple has planned for next year. (Zune, anyone?) So if and when Palm launches a new and improved Pre, here’s what I’m hoping to see.
Make the iPhone look expensive again
We all remember the iPhone’s $599 launch price in 2007. Well that was then, and now the iPhone, which now can replace your laptop, iPod, GPS navigator and cell phone, among other things, is a steal at $199. When the Pre launched in the U.S. at $299 with a lame $100 mail-in rebate, I had doubts. When I found out it had 8GB of storage, half of the iPhone 3GS’ 16 gigs, the Pre looked downright pricey. The next Pre needs to beat the competition on both specs and price. As I write this, Palm is rumoured to be dropping the price of the current Pre to $150 on Wednesday, but that won’t be enough in face of stiff competition.
Embrace virtual keyboards, make a better one
Palm should already be trying to rush a virtual keyboard on to the current Pre, so there’s no doubt we’ll see one in the next version of the device. The plan needs to go one step further though, and ditch the clumsy plastic keyboard altogether. It’s 2009. The QWERTY keyboard, a hold over from ancient times, feels clumsy enough when you’re surfing the web and could really use a “.com” or “.org” button.
While Palm always touted the Pre’s keyboard, it’s an example of the device’s failings when it comes to user interface. The Pre’s need to constantly rotate the phone from portrait to landscape and back, and to switch from touching to clicking to gesturing is the best example of a confused user interface.
Losing the physical keyboard would also allow Palm the space needed to increase the size of the Pre’s screen and give us web pages that could be read without constanlty magnifying. Oh, and don’t copy the BlackBerry Storm.
Do anything to make developers flock to the Pre App Catalog
This is the biggest challenge Palm is facing. There really is an app for everthing on the iPhone, and while many like to joke about the iPhone’s wealth of iFart-type programs, the fact is they are accompanied on Apple’s App Store by an incredible amount of useful programs. 70,000 to 40 is an awful position to be in, and that’s the score in the Apple vs. Palm app game. Palm needs to do anything and everything to get developers making apps for the Pre. Such as:
-Giving developers 80 percent or more of the cut.
-Allowing apps to be priced below the iPhone, even for as little as 25 cents. The strategy of BlackBerry and Microsoft towards increased app pricing is very flawed.
-Paying developers a fee for every app they create.
-Updating their SDK to give developers the ability to make better-looking games.
Promote a Pre ecosystem
One of the iPhone’s huge advantages is that the iPod dock has become so widely adopted. From my car to my office to my friends’ homes I can find an iPod dock to charge and listen to tunes. Airplanes are coming with iPod docks. So when someone chooses a Pre, they are choosing a certain amount of inconvenience. While the mini-USB on the Pre is widely used for charging devices, Palm needs to aggressively position their device to make it appear ubiquitous through partnerships and the production of accessories.
I’m hoping that the Pam Pre and it’s sleek webOS are given a second chance in a new device that fixes the original Pre’s mistakes and ups the ante against Apple. I’m also hoping that it’s done quickly. Waiting until next summer, and the iPhone’s fourth iteration, would be an unfortunate mistake.