Can new Palm Pre compete with iPhone?

Palm Pre at CES (Josh Lovison)It is a classic tale.  A once great legend, now down and out, falls for the quirky girl who no one really notices, and with her support, stages a final comeback.  No, I’m not talking about a new Hollywood release.  I’m talking about Palm’s new smartphone and Sprint.

The Palm “Pre” is the newest smartphone from the company that was one of the pioneers of the PDA age.  The handset is initially an exclusive release on the Sprint network, known more for its economical pricing than its sexy handset lineup.

I got to take a look at the Palm Pre this week at CES, and it is a very nice phone.  A lot of thought clearly went into the both physical design and user interface from both an aesthetic and functional perspective.  Peter Skillman, VP of Design for Palm demoed some of these aspects: A quicklaunch for applications just by typing the initial letters, smooth edges on the back after sliding out the keyboard, a magnetic conductive touch charger that eliminates the need to plug in for a charge.  The software on the phone is extremely well designed, and connects with open APIs on the web nicely (such as contacts being able to be streamed with flickr or Facebook photo streams).

For 3rd party support, Sachin Kansai, Director of Software Product Management, confirmed that there will be a SDK and Application store for the device after launch, and that with application certification, distribution of apps can be through any channel, even outside of the app store on the device.  The apps are built using web technologies such as Javascript, CSS, and HTML, which enable easy development and integration for cloud based apps.  The approach seems to be a very intelligent way of approaching the market, though only time will tell.

The phone is clearly targeting the iPhone as a competitor, and while some coverage of the device is claiming it to be an “iPhone killer,” I really think that undermines what’s really going on.  That’s as ludicrous as calling an HP copier a “Xerox killer.”  The iPhone has set a very clear bar for smartphones and mobile devices in general.  Now we’re just seeing the other manufacturers saying “hey, we can do that too, but we’ll make it our own.”  No one is getting killed.  Everyone else is just catching up.

Nicely done Palm, and best of luck.