Palm can win the battle, but it needs more than a phone

I’m very excited about the new Palm Pre that’s coming out hopefully before the summer.  As an avid Blackberry user, I’ll be the first to admit to its serious limitations compared to the iPhone in usability.  However, I ended up buying the Bold, and not the iPhone, because I hate being at the mercy of one company (or man) – i.e. I liked the openness of the Blackberry, even if it compromised the overall user experience.  However, with webOS, it seems we can get the best of both worlds – openness and sexiness (sure, Android is out there, but I think it is lacking in several areas – both hardware and software).

Now, I haven’t played with the phone, nor have many folks, but based on what I’ve seen and heard, this phone is pretty slick.   Even if it lives up to all our hype (which admittedly is high), it may not be enough.  The iPhone will be two years old this summer, and they most likely will release a 3rd generation device, and who knows what that will have (removable battery, anyone?).  And they released a third version of their OS (in case you haven’t seen the details, here’s a good, short, and amusing summary on the updated OS and how Apple “invented” copy/paste  and MMS).  Oh, and Apple is selling several million iPod Touches per quarter, and it uses the same OS – in fact, this is probably the leading reason why there is so much developer attention to the platform.   Let’s just say there’s a lot of catching up.  

And I think there’s one way they can do it.  Make webOS the de facto platform for ALL types of mobile devices by creating multiple types of devices that support it, or better yet, by licensing it out at an extremely subsidized cost.  The obvious option is a PMP / iPodTouch-like device, which will allow users to cheaply purchase a near-Pre equivalent (minus the phone) at a much lower price.  This is essential (why not seek a partnership with Amazon and become their mobile content delivery platform of choice for video, music, and maybe even books?  Sony just announced they will work with Google Books so Amazon might feel a slight tinge of pressure, and Amazon has demonstrated openness to supporting devices outside the Kindle with their iPhone App).

But what about cameras?  Or navigation systems (even in-dash)?  Or appliances (which are becoming more and more connected)?  Or remotes?  Then it becomes much more interesting to developers to build interesting apps.  If Palm can build multiple non-Phone devices, well then even better.  But the key is they need to propagate their platform and make it more ubiquitous than Apple’s.  Palm has clear advantages over Apple (multitasking, significantly easier programming language, keyboard), but in order to exploit them, it will need to create an ecosystem outside just phones.  Anyways, I’m cheering for Palm to succeed.

Note – I am currently long Apple.

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