Round Table: Six months with the Palm Pre and webOS | webOS Nation

Round Table: Six months with the Palm Pre and webOS

by Derek Kessler Sun, 06 Dec 2009 8:53 pm EST

Round Table

Welcome to Round Table, which is in fact not a table at all. Round Table is a continuing series on PreCentral where we pose a question to the staff and they provide their thoughts and insights. The question could be something simple like “what’s your favorite webOS app?” or something a bit more complicated, like “what do you want from the next Palm device?” Or maybe we’ll just end up chatting about our favorite sandwiches, you never know. This time around we're looking back at six months of life with the Palm Pre and webOS.

Check it all out after the break: What was the most important event for Palm in the last six months, and what will be the most important in the next six months?

Craig: There has been no single big event from Palm since the the Pre was introduced but there are dozens from the user community. In July, WebOS Quick Install and fileCoaster threw open the door to homebrew apps like Solitaire and Checkers but none rocked like Music Player (Remix). Then came Preware and our world exploded. In September themes and patches came to the masess and suddenly our Pre phones could do almost anything. Oh, and somewhere along the way Palm released some updates and the Pixi.

Hopefully the biggest events ahead for Palm will be incorporating user patches and introducing the Pre 2. Imagine if Palm incorporated key user patches in one area each month: Messaging, Email, Phone, App Launcher, Browser, and Top Bar. Add in the Music Player (Remix) and the Pre and Pixi would suddenly have world-class apps, users would be a buzz, and the pundits would be blown away. Users could provide an endless source of patches. But if fragile Palm egos prevail, the Pre 2 will be irrelavent.

Derek: More important than the Pre launch in the long term will be the Pixi. Despite what Palm keeps saying, the Pre is a smartphone for smartphone geeks. The Pixi, however, has much more mass-market appeal, ala the Centro. In the 18 months after Palm launched the Centro they sold more than three million units, which is an awful lot for Palm. The hope, and expectation, is that the Pixi will replicate that success. Like the Centro, it's the smallest smartphone on the market. Like the Centro, it's a scaled down version of its big brother, the Pre. Like the Centro, it's a new smartphone at a very attractive price-point: $100. And like the Centro, it's an approachable cute phone. Assuming that Sprint's exclusivity on the Pixi isn't too long (they don't seem to be making a big marketing push behind it), the Pixi's eventual landing on multiple carriers will make it a serious contender in the mass-appeal smartphone market.

While the Pixi's launch may be the most important of the last six months, the next six months will be all about webOS and the successor to the Pre. While I have absolutely no evidence apart from industry trends to back up this assertion, I believe that summer 2010 will bring both the Pre II and webOS 2.0. Assuming that the Pixi performs as well as we expect, Palm will be well positioned for an iPhone-style global launch of the Pre II. What makes the hypothetical Pre II important is that it will demonstrate whether or not Palm has learned lessons on the hardware front. Software is easy enough to correct, but once the physical phone is out there, there's nothing that can be done to correct design deficiencies. The Pixi has shown that Palm does indeed know how to design a solid phone, but it remains to be seen whether that will be a fluke or the start of a trend.

Dieter: Although I'd like to pick several events, I'll pick one that I that think is indicative of the most important trend for webOS. Namely: the rapid release of webOS 1.2 and 1.2.1. It was (and is) a clear sign that not only is Palm able to rapidly release new versions of the webOS quickly and easily over the air, but also quickly respond to issues with updates (the Exchange bug in 1.2 was resolved in 1.2.1). Everybody agrees that webOS is very cool but could use a little more in terms of features, functionality, and speed. The fact that we're just over 6 months after the release of the Pre and we've received several major updates over-the-air is a Big Deal and keeps me from hitting the panic button about features I am waiting to see on webOS. 1.2 was the first big sign that this would be a trend.

Over the next six months, I'm torn between a few things. For Palm, it's surely going to be the Verizon release of the Pre. For me and for the future of the webOS platform, I vote for the coming changes to app distribution. Open and easy distribution of webOS apps combined with what we're hearing about the Ares development platform will mean that many many more developers will be able to get into webOS and we should see the number of apps skyrocket.

Jonathan: To me, the most significant event for Palm in the last six months was the standardization of the patch and homebrew architecture among independent developers, with help from the PreCentral and WebOS Internals sites. As a tech-savvy but non-developer user, being able easily install homebrew apps and patches has allowed me to customize my Pre to a much more usable point. No worries about the legality of jailbreaking, no problems managing the over-the-air updates for webOS, no problems with leftover obsolete code causing problems, no guilt recommending homebrew to less tech-savvy Pre users. The consistency and smoothness of the homebrew experience has got to be helping Palm and Sprint be supportive of homebrew, and it has allowed broad adoption and testing of some great apps and tweaks that are making their way into the "official" framework.

The most important event in the next six months will be the introduction of a webOS model above the Pre, likely on Verizon in the US. At this point, there's enough differentiation among power users, and enough room in the price point above the Pre, to fit in a Pre Plus, Pre 2, Pro, or whatever Palm wants to call it, just as the Pilot 1000 and 5000 were followed by the Palm Pilot Professional, the III by the IIIxe and so forth. The Pre 2 will likely include a higher-capacity battery, an SDHC slot, and expanded Bluetooth support. More memory is a possibility, although an SDHC slot will take much of that need away. Add the expected GPU support and a expansion of the SDK to the binary level for more sophisticated apps, and Palm will have a huge professional-level winner on its hands. Just adding carriers, as welcome as that will be, is not enough. Palm needs to push the hardware feature envelope, not with any revolutionary attempts (remember the LifeDrive with its internal HDD?) but with obvious evolutionary steps.

Robert: One of the most significant events for Palm in these last six months would have to be its very strong expansion into what has traditionally been a tough market for them: Europe. Being able to create a product that's compelling for the North American market and the European market has been a huge win for the company.

Going forward, Palm would be wise to aggressively expand onto other tier-one carriers, both in the US and abroad. While Sprint has been a solid launch partner for both the Pre and the Pixi, you have to look at the numbers: Sprint has some 37 million users and dropping, while Verizon and AT&T both have subscriber numbers exceeding 80 million. For some perspective, the buggy abomination of a smartphone that was the original BlackBerry Storm was able to sell some 1 million units in its first month, mostly due to Verizon's large subscriber base effective advertising campaign, while Palm's total sales for Q2FY2010 were somewhere in the 800,000 range.

Mickey Papillion, Editor, The Cell Phone Junkie: While the last 6 months have been very exciting for the webOS with multiple updates and a new app catalog, the most significant thing has to be the expansion of the platform. From the first time I heard that the OS was going to be changing for Palm, I wondered if it was going to be a positive chance. Initially, I was concerned that it would just be a one off thing (ie, software for the Pre only) and that there might not be any future devices. The introduction of the Pixi in November proved to me that Palm is truly putting its weight behind the platform. Then, Palm announced they would no longer sell Windows Mobile devices; rather, it would be focusing its efforts on its own operating system.

As one of the original leaders in PDA's, Palm has a very large following, and a community that has been craving an OS redesign for many years. webOS will continue to succeed with the addition of new hardware, which will give consumers the choice they desire in hardware. webOS is a great platform for the future, but will only succeed if there is continuous development and releases of new hardware.

And that’s what we think. Now there are two more steps: (1) we want to know what you think (the comments below await your thoughts), and (2) we’d like to hear what questions you would pose to the gang - send your suggestions for Round Table questions to