Five reasons the Palm Pre won't prevail

Palm's glorious past clouds our ability to predict its future

Suppose someone lifted up the body of your car and slid a whole new automobile, minus the body, underneath. Would it still be the same car? Similarly, is it fair to compare today's Palm to the Palm of old in predicting the Palm Pre's future?

I don't think so. If anything, Palm's glorious past clouds our ability to predict its future--to the "new" Palm's benefit, I should add.

So, when you read glowing reports about how gutsy it is for Palm to scrap their previous operating system for webOS or when you read how "Palm knows how to build an ecosystem" it's important to realize today's Palm is essentially a startup. Why? Because the Palm that did good, even great, things vanished some years ago as the company's sales faltered and successive new executive teams ran the company into the ground.

Now, the people who are running Palm today are smart. Very smart, even. But, it's not a gutsy decision to replace someone else's failure with a whole new show. The Palm "halo effect" shouldn't cloud our judgement.

I think the Palm Pre is an important announcement but don't really understand all the people who are foaming over it. Here's reality check on why the Pre is the "next big thing" in only a limited way.

5. Palm is, effectively, a start-up. Forget the heritage, extract the name, and you have the Palm of today. While it has assembled a hugely talented team, startups can screwup. Not a predication, but if the Pre isn't close to perfect the company could face problems, especially if a hardware recall were necessary.

4. The ability to run multiple applications at the same time will, over time, be important. But, it's a feature most other smartphones, except the iPhone, already possess. By the time multitasking becomes a must-have feature for the masses, Apple will have it.

3. Unlike the Palm of yesteryear, today's Palm doesn't have lots of experience with developers. A huge applications and music store is a big driver of the iPhone's success. It may be a while before Palm has this and a long time before it surpasses Apple.

2. In an odd way, the Pre's keyboard could be its undoing. As much as I didn't like Apple's touchpad when my first iPhone arrived, I have come to appreciate the simplicity of a device that doesn't require me to open it or pull something out to make it work. And, if people want a keyboard, they already have a BlackBerry.

1. Palm doesn't currently have the financing to effectively compete with larger companies. That could be an issue. Suppose, Palm can sell all the Pre's it can make, but can't make enough to fill demand or, worse, convince developers to build Pre applications?

I am not predicting the Palm Pre will hit the market with a thud. But, I don't expect that six months from now we will be talking about it as breathlessly as we are today. By then, we'll have hot new Android devices to foam over.

David Coursey helped introduce the original Palm Pilot in 1996. He tweets as dcoursey and receives e-mail from a form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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