The Palm Pre Is Like Iron Man
By Hervé St-Louis
December 20, 2009 - 13:04
Both Palm, the Sunnyvale mobile developer and Tony Stark - also known as Iron Man, have had a history of hic ups, successes, failures, attacks by competitors, and serious questions about their survival. Both are important cores to their respective universe, although every time someone has perceived them as also rans and second stringer, they have risen from their ashes and showed their detractors that they were a match for any opponent.
If you know me personally, you will know that I am a fan of the current Iron Man series published by Marvel Comics, a great fan of the film, a fan of the classic stories featuring Iron Man and the proud owner of too many Iron Man action figures. But I wasn't always a hardcore Iron Man fan, until I was swayed by the charm of the character. You see, I'm more an underdog type of guy, so of course I naturally love Daredevil and Aquaman. But Iron Man has the quality of the underdog that I like, the one where he gets up again and sucker punches his enemies.
Much of the same reasons that I like Iron Man are why I like Palm and their current mobile phones running the ubiquitous webOS. My current phone the Palm Pre, has not gained my respect and devotion because I saw a cool ad with 20 something young adults dancing over a white background in silhouettes like in a Gap commercial.
The Palm Pre, running webOS, has earned my respect because they truly offer the best mobile experience of any cellular phone out there bare none.
- All of my multiple email accounts appear in my phone and synch with my computer (thanks to IMAP).
- All of my contacts from Facebook, Linkedin, my Bin address book, Skype and Outlook (through Gmail) are on my phone.
- All of my calendars, including the one from Basecamp, synch with my phone.
- My Palm Pre is a computer, a backup drive a music player and a complete entertainment center.
Just like Iron Man, the Palm Pre features cutting edge technology copied by the Justin Hammer and the Steve Jobs of this world and repackaged as if it was new. That plane mode on your iPhone was an invention of Palm. WebOS in particular introduces a whole new dimension to mobile phones. Your screen is literally a desktop allowing you to do many things at once and dismiss any program that you are not using. Using a playing card metaphor, you can easily move between applications and even restack their orders. After having gone webOS, it will be difficult for me to ever use another operating system that is not as simple and as intuitive to use. I've used the iPhone in my professional work a lot, and it just doesn't compare. It's not as sexy and simple. Its interface is rather redundant with several clicks and taps and back and forth to a crowed home screen. It used to be groundbreaking two years ago. Now, it's just tacky.
Speaking of tacky, everybody and their old aunt is using an iPhone these days. It used to be only cool people that had them. I went to a party the other day and most people at the bar, who also work in digital media and Web development were using iPhones. They looked lame. It used to be that you would pull out your iPhone in bars to impress your friends. Now there's no one left to impress. Everybody has the same stupid phone.
I like to think that I have good taste. I believe that I do. When everyone is using the same old crap, I know it's time for me to exit. At one point, I almost gave into the sheep mentality and got myself an iPhone. I'm glad I discovered the Palm Pre just in time.
But the real threat to Palm, is not coming from Steve Jobs and the iPhone. It's coming from Google's Android. Iron Man has fought Justin Hammer and won. But his current nemesis is Norman Osborn. Norman Osborn is like Google. He claims to work for the good of the planet, but he has a secret hidden agenda. Just like Osborn, Google wants to creep into every space of your life and at the same time destroy any competitor by appealing to the public. He claims to be working on the public's behalf. Every one gives Norman Osborn credits for cleaning the house and resolving problems that others before him failed to address. He is effective, just like Google.
But whether the public knows about the true intentions of Osborn and Google, one should still watch out for them. Google is coming up with a new phone in January 2010 that will copy much of the Palm Pre's interface. I seem to recall many stories where Osborn has been seen copying Tony Stark's technology, but without having all of his inside knowledge.
Google's Android operating system is not as polished as webOS. A large public relations effort and money is being spent trying to portray Google Android's as the most customizable operating system for people who want total control over their phones, unlike the very closed and narrow-minded iPhone environment. WebOS is actually, more open than Android and easier to develop for. It's easier to modify the phone and improve upon it. Google Android's is a much more closed system, but a lot of people think it is not. They say Android is the phone for geeks. Well, you don't have to jailbreak your Palm Pre to customize it, the way you do an iPhone or an Android phone. You simply switch to developer mode and go crazy. A lot of money has been spent saying that Google Android is the most growing mobile platform. Google's tactics of offering its free operating system to any mobile merchandiser is difficult to resist for many of them. Norman Osborn would be proud of Google's executives.
Recently, Osborn definitely knocked down Iron Man. Google through Android has served a similar hit to Palm and its webOS. The competition is harsh for Palm. Google and its partners release a new phone every two month that they keep branding as the latest and greatest. They, mid-way, swiped a couple of features from webOS and improve on them. The experience on Android is still not as smooth and fun as on webOS, but slowly they it is gaining ground and makes Wall Street day traders think that Palm is toast and that Google is the future. The story goes that Osborn will dethrone Justin Hammer. Google will dethrone Apple as the most popular mobile device.
It's tough to dismiss such deterministic overviews about Google Android's fortunes. To read comments about Android, it is inevitable that it will succeed and dethrone the iPhone and totally eliminate Palm as a competitor. It's just a matter of time. The problem with this is that ten years ago, everyone would have said the same about Microsoft and how Apple was toast. Microsoft is not doing so well these days and Apple is quite a different company (pardon the pun). Google expands and expands and try to enter new markets everyday. But no one asks about how much the company is stretching itself financially and if the books are really telling the right story. It's all based on trust and perceptions. People perceive Palm as loser, so they react to it as a loser. People perceive Google as a winner and are willing to overlook problem areas and growing discontent with the company.
As long as Google keeps on executing and announcing that they've purchased a new company every week, people perceive everything at Google to be doing well and that the company is well managed. That all these different companies and cultures that keep being amalgamated and grafted every month function smoothly and that every one at the Googleplex is happy and doing his darn best. Meanwhile, Palm is executing, but for many not fast enough. Critics and supporters want to see a new phone, a new version of webOS, a bunch of new features. It's Iron Man's armour wars all over again!
In the comic book, we all know that eventually, Norman Osborn and Justin Hammer will be defeated by Tony Stark. Iron Man will comeback strong and will prevail. He will fall again, like the alcoholic that he is, but that's because it's fun and great drama to seem him fall and get up every time.
For Palm, it's a different story. As much as I would like Palm to be like Iron Man, and get up again and kick Google and Apple in the ass and take the center stage it rightly deserves, Palm has a lot more work to do and without much effort, will ever deserve the spot at the center of the game. But there is hope for Palm to be a viable and successful mobile developer. Palm has the talent and some money. They also have a window of opportunity to kick ass again. Palm's Pixi and the Pre are not perfect phones. WebOS needs a lot more work to be the best mobile operating system. Iron Man was not a popular Marvel Comics character a decade ago. Today, he's the best they have.
Palm has shown in 2009 that it can deploy and change the stakes of its fortunes. It showed that it can be impressive enough to encourage both Apple and Google to copy its technology. Palm is an underdog, and when you are an underdog, you're bound to get up again.
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