Business Cases, Value Propositions and the Pre 78
Making the case for the Palm Pre in Business
With its US release in June (and Canadian launch last week), the Pre became the latest major player to try to be the smartphone for the huge small and mid-sized business market, which I argue isn't well served by either BlackBerry or iPhone. How well does it succeed?
In the past few years, the business smartphone category has had one clear leader: Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices. Solid, reliable and above all simple to use, they have become the standard issue for businesspeople. They are, though, much better suited for larger businesses, needing dedicated servers on top of the business' mail system in order to fully use their potential. They also traditionally lacked some flexibility: they were good messaging devices, but less useful for Web browsing or other applications beyond simple games. Many of these shortcomings have been addressed in recent years, however.
Apple entered the market two years ago with the iPhone, which generated a lot of desire but had real challenges for business use. While the iPhone far surpassed the BlackBerry in Web browsing and (eventually) applications, it lagged behind (until very recently) in Office document review and editing, and (worse still from an IT support perspective) required Apple's ever-updating, ever-evolving iTunes application on every desktop in order to properly keep it synched and backed up. These qualities made it much more appropriate for students and solo practitioners, whose work environment was a desktop rather than a server-driven network. While other smartphones sought to fill the wide gap between the enterprise-focused BlackBerry and the iPhone, few (not even Palm's Treos or the nascent Android-based devices) gained much traction.
I could make similar arguments for the other major smartphone platforms out there. Android, Symbian, and even the PalmOS all haven't seen large success in the US business market. Windows Mobile has done better, but Microsoft's inability to keep the OS up to date has held it back. On to the Pre then. Let's judge by two crucial criteria: the business case and the value proposition.
Unlike the iPhone, it does not need a desktop component to update, install apps or back itself up. It's relatively inexpensive, has a physical thumbboard as well as the potential for a virtual keyboard (now realized), and is easy to use. Add the Pre's multitasking, and its ability to improve mobile productivity becomes clear, as does the business case for it.
While the Pre still needs a significantly broader business software library (especially Office doc editing), even as it currently stands, it's a viable choice for the many thousand small- and mid-sized businesses. As long as Palm can get that message out to this huge potential market, the business future of the Pre seems very promising.