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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.

Attracting Developers

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.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. The Palm Pre is not an “iphone killer.” Despite its touch screen and similar functionality to the iPhone, the Pre represents another advanced smartphone competing in a small but growing market. Droves of dedicated iPhone users will not ditch their iPhones because of the Pre or other competitive mobile devices with the exception of mobile geeks, who are continually dissatisfied with mobile technology.

    Of the 4 billion active mobile phones on the planet, the vast majority are simple handsets primarily used for phone calls. As Eric Hansen of SiteSpect pointed out in a recent podcast (, 50% of all global handsets don’t even run Javascript. In India, for example, only 40 to 50 million of the 400 million mobile handsets have data or Internet functionality at all.

    Mobile applications certainly drive smartphone sales. However, most smartphone users, including iPhone, Pre and others, will never want nor need 40,000 applications. While Mossberg’s comments about his initial poor experience downloading Palm Pre apps is of interest, Palm is experiencing the same challenges Apple and RIM faced when launching their app stores.

    Meanwhile, the Earth continues spinning and at least 3.99 billion cell phone uses are not reading TechCrunch or Engadget. Thankfully, there is life beyond the smartphone.

    Brian Prows, MobileBeyond

  2. Thanks for your comments, Brian. I agree that it’s not an iPhone killer. Features aside, having to switch to Sprint will be a deterrent — especially for the core attractive set of users who already have iPhones (heavy data consumers and early adopters). AT&T makes it hard to switch with two-year contracts, given new iPhones coming out every year.

    You’re also right that vast majority of phones are non-smartphones but in terms of the mobile Web, most usage happens on smartphones (and most of that usage comes from iPhones). Within the discussion of content delivery on the mobile device, that’s the more important number to pay attention to in my opinion.

  3. Let’s update the numbers and situation from last year.

    In the past twelve months, Android OS smartphones have now surpassed the iPhone in mobile advertising click-through rates (See Smaato’s June, 2010 report) and average number of video minutes consumed per user (See my interview post with Tricia Higgins of MobiTV on MobileBeyond).

    Available iPhone apps have passed 200,000, while the Android market exceeded 50,000 apps by April, 2010 and is growing quickly.

    The iPhone 4, while selling more units than the 3GS is now competing with HTC, Samsung and Motorola, which continue releasing Android OS devices through Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T

    After courting by Apple and RIM, HP purchased Palm and is developing a tablet computer based on WebOS, while AT&T’s iPad sales total 3.5 million units.

    On June 12, 2010, 5 billion mobile phones were active on the planet with an additional 5 billion wireless devices forecast for release by 2011 (tablets, e-readers and M2M devices such as smart meters).

    Global smartphone and non-smartphone mobile Web usage in 2009 was fairly close: 9.4 terabytes to 7.2 terabytes. Despite the adoption of the iPhone in the U.S. and internationally, its total Internet usage was a drop in the bucket. (See Cisco’s global report 2009-2014:

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