Monday, May 25, 2009

The Pre Gets a Release Date

The Palm Pre Countdown Begins

You may think of it as smarmy or disorganized (I think the latter), but the Palm Pre has been on ice for months now with bits leaked out now and then but no release date or price until last week. Instead, they've been quietly trying to drum up hype for it. I think they honestly didn't know until earlier this month when they were going to release it. Anyway, it's going to be released on Saturday, June 6 for $200 (after a $100 mail-in rebate) with a 2-year contract to an Everything Data plan (which is required for the phone). Also, the fancy wireless Touchstone charger will be available on the same day for $70. In the interest of full disclosure: I fully plan on buying this phone on June 6 (or even earlier in the unlikely case that the lady I spoke with at Sprint today calls me back next week if they get it before June 6). The stores themselves seem to know almost nothing about the release: the store at Westlake Center told me that all they know is that they have to close early on June 5 and don't know when to even open on June 6 (though the store in U Village is opening on June 6 at 10AM - their normal hours).

What's really noteworthy about this announcement that you have to read between the lines for is that it's coming out literally 2 days before details are purported to be released on the next iPhone at Apple's WWDC keynote (see rumors and their reliability here). This topic has been debated for a little while know in anticipation because there are two schools of thought (neither of which I joined). One thought that releasing shortly before the iPhone announcement would keep Palm from being shut out in the aftermath of what's likely to be a deluge of iPhone coverage. The other believed the exact opposite: releasing before the iPhone would mean that it would only be hot for a short time before the iPhone blew it away into disinterest. I'm warming up to the former because I think that Palm and Sprint are relying heavily on guerilla fanfare and word of mouth pitting it against the iPhone. Also, I think that having it out there and a reality poses the situation as "how will the iPhone be able to best the Pre?" instead of "how can the Pre possibly best the iPhone?" Also, people are less likely to believe that the Pre is too good to be true (and, thus, default to the iPhone) if they can touch it in a store. There's risk either way, but hopefully it works out for Palm (I don't care about Sprint, just vaguely about Palm).

The first big smartphone was undoubtedly the Treo, and then came the Blackberry, and finally the iPhone. Can the Pre be next in line? Remember, jockeying to this position has been a bloody battle that neither RIM (with the Storm), nor HTC (with the G1), nor Samsung (with the Instinct) have been able to win. What you have to appreciate about the situation is that this is seriously Palm's last hope to not go bankrupt. If the Pre fails I can all but guarantee that Palm will not be around 18 months from now. They're betting big on the webOS platform and smartly abandoning the outdated and now unpopular Palm OS.

So what do they need to do to hit a home run? First of all, they need to make this thing as available as they possibly can. With an iPhone announcement for an impending iPhone imminent, they cannot afford long shortages. They're not selling a product like the Wii for which there are no equal competitors, and they risk losing people's interest fast. They need to start with a lot of momentum and keep it going forward as they start announcing other webOS phones. The Pre alone cannot save Palm, they need webOS. The Sprint CEO claims that he expects shortages for a while, but it may be presumptuous to think that people will be waiting in line early morning on June 6. I predicted it for the iPhone because of the cult of Apple and because it brought 100% brand new and innovative ideas to the mobile phone market. The Pre has some awesome principles behind it and unique ideas, but not like the iPhone in its day and it doesn't have the Apple brand. I personally think people will wait in line just because the other Sprint phones blow and we've all been waiting for a solid smartphone.

Anyway, the next thing they need is to nurture an open platform. I read on their FAQ that the Software Development Kit (SDK) will be free, which is awesome. They have the start of the forthcoming O'Reily book available freely right now, and I'm really digging it. From what I can tell, they've taken a totally opposite approach from Apple in having the code be standard Javascript and CSS and other technologies familiar to most web developers rather than Objective C (C is no longer the lingua franca of developers, Java is, which is why I still have a soft spot for Android). The fact that they're supporting the Amazon MP3 store right out of the box along with whatever offering I'm sure Sprint will have is already an impressive showing of openness. There has been no talk yet of censorship, either, so this could be a pretty killer combination to do battle with the iPhone application ecosystem. It's still an uphill battle, but they totally have a fighting chance if the SDK is easy to pick up and stays open. I know I said that Android had the potential to someday overthrow the reign of the iPhone OS, but I think the Mojo SDK (that's what they're calling it) has an even better chance now just because the Pre hardware seems to be much better than the G1. Plus, Palm has much more experience in a mobile platform than Apple or Google. I know that Palm OS is fraught with problems, but it was a pioneer much like DOS was back in the day. They were industry leaders once and have the talent to be a platform leader again once more, if they play their cards right (again, uphill battle).

In some ways, they have to be everything the iPhone is and everything that it isn't. I really really hate to keep comparing it to the iPhone. It almost disgusts me to do so, but I have to. Whether or not you like it or own one or like Apple, you have to admit that the iPhone is an incredible device that has literally captivated the world in a way that no cell phone ever has before. To break that spell, the Pre has to show that it can one up Apple. Fortunately, they have an ace in the hole: background processes. What I love from reading the SDK documentation and watching all the videos and reading the reviews is that it seeks to give you a rich experience without the complicated, overbearing interface of the Treo series. Being able to control processes by throwing the "cards" (an instance of an application) is awesome (my Treo crashes so much because the applications just don't get cleaned up). A lot of Apple fanboys claim that background processes are stupid, but they're powerful. That means that even though the Pre has no on screen keyboard right now, it could actually be legitimately added on with a software update. Conversely, copy/paste wasn't possible on the iPhone until Apple did it because you'd need the clipboard to run in a background process. Being able to have flight notifications running in the background or twitter applications or just whatever is really awesome, and they need to capitalize on that. Hopefully, they'll get Flash support soon and try to go for the hat trick.

I think I've gone on quite long enough about the Palm Pre getting a release date. I've just bottled up all these thoughts for a while now and wanted to get them out. I really hope that Palm can recover with the Pre and give Apple some fair competition, especially for their tightly controlled app store. This is the first phone since the iPhone that I truly have believed was going to be a big success (go back in the archives and read, I'm not lying), and I know that Palm is banking on it. Until June 6 though, let's not drink that hype water and just wait to get our hands on it (it'll be a long wait though, I know).

The Digital Afterlife

No, this is not the headline of a Popular Science story. Actually, I'm referring to what happens to your social networking profiles after you die. Someone at my office who was actually only 30 died very suddenly, and it made me wonder (among many things) what would happen to my Facebook profile and my e-mail and all that stuff if I die since no one else knows my passwords. At Facebook, they keep your profile up as a memorial for a couple of months before they take it down (unless family requests that it be left up longer). I guess the idea of a guest book to write down the things you wished you could say to someone before they died isn't a new concept, but I think it's a really good example of how the simplest technologies have transformed our lifestyles, even in death. I'm not implying that a Facebook memorial page is tantamount to an obituary, but it brings up the point that it may add eerie discomfort to have that profile page available. What I'm actually more fascinated by is that you may be more aware of when people die who you weren't all that close to since reading obituaries isn't a very common practice. Just some food for thought.

No Ads for Twitter

I haven't talked very much about Twitter at all here. I don't entertain all the Twitter articles on the fringe about mundane junk. Still, I do want to briefly talk about their lack of a business plan. Co-founder Biz Stone announced that they will not be going down the path of advertising and will instead go down the path of premium tools and services. Some consider this risky, but it's really not all that crazy. I don't think that Facebook is doing gangbusters with its ads, and the way people use Twitter probably doesn't lend itself well to eyeballs for banner ads. I actually buy into the Craigslist model: charge a reasonable rate to the businesses that can afford it so that it can be free for the rest. Maybe they should call this the Robin Hood model? It's admittedly a pretty liberal principle, but a company like Twitter would need something liberal.

Of course, they could also start a Twitter TV channel, like Twitmatic, which allows you to surf videos posted on Twitter via keywords. That's actually one of the few mashups for Twitter that I think is truly neat. Sometimes, you're too lazy to pick something to watch, so just let the community pick for you (in a manner of speaking).

Intel Unveils Moblin 2.0 Beta

Intel has been a key partner of Microsoft for quite a while now, but they've recently decided to try their hand at a customized flavor of Linux called Moblin. Why? Same reason as everyone else who's doing it: more control to optimize for what they care about (probably for the kinds of applications used in benchmark tests to help sell more chips). They want some form of leverage against Microsoft, but I really don't think this is going to do it. I think that pushing Linux to a mainstream consumer audience is prohibitively difficult and usually a bad idea when it's your own blend (even if they did give it to the community to continue working on) rather than one of the big, widely used/supported ones. Windows 7 is bringing in features to try to make it less intimidating to people like burning discs, easily showing content on projectors, a reliable backup utility, and the ability to record problems for easier bug fixing by Microsoft developers. An OS that's only focused on performance though (Moblin) is just way too likely to miss the mark on usability.

Final Stories
the firm
Ok, I'm starting to doze off and I've gone on way too long here. I do have some other stories I liked though, so let me give them to you to read if they pique your interest.

Wired has a good article about why e-Book texts seem so ugly: the firmware usually can't support many fonts, partially because of licensing issues. I wouldn't be too worried though: the text can only get better.

Pandora is predicting its first ever profit this year, partially because of a growing audience (thanks in no small part to the iPhone) and partially through new forms of revenue (like audio ads). I'm just glad that Pandora hasn't had to fold already and hopefully won't have to anytime soon.

Mozilla announced and posted some literature/videos about Jetpack last week, their API for encouraging add-on development using technologies that web developers should already know (kinda like the Pre's strategy). I'm a big believer in add-ons customizing your browsing experience, so this is really cool to me.

Cory Doctorow (founder of Boing Boing) wrote an awesome editorial about why net neutrality is important and censorship is terrible.

CNet posted the winners of the Webware 100, which are the best web applications in 10 different categories. Amazon is on there a few times (Google is on there several times), and it's a great place to start surfing from on a lazy Memorial Day weekend afternoon.

Gmail Labs added automatic translation!

Seattle and Dallas both made PCWorld's list for the 10 best cities to find jobs in tech - you should go over there for the full list if you're looking for somewhere to move to.

Smashing Magazine posted a great lexicon of random web development terminology.

Samsung's LED TVs are going to be nuts.

Hope you all have had a great weekend and are planing on basking in the shortened week!

1 comment:

Evan Carroll said...

I wrote a post about this a few months back:

There's still a great deal of uncertainty around this issue. I would like to see social networking services adopt a standard, predictable way of dealing with member deaths.