Apple Pre-pares for a fight

The new Palm Pre seems to have gotten up the nose of acting Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is quoted as saying that Apple “will not stand for having our IP ripped off and we’ll use whatever weapons we have at our disposal,” or words to that effect, as the blogosphere is quoting several variations on the theme. Cook, also Apple’s COO, was being interviewed during an Apple Earnings Call when the question of Palm competition was raised. What may be upsetting Apple is not the claims that the Pre is an iPhone killer, because such claims are two-a-penny these days, but that for the first time the claims may be true. At least, that’s what many people are starting to believe. So is this just a “follow the crowd” effect, or is there some merit to the claim? One could investigate the respective patent portfolios to see if there’s a case for infringement, which I’m sure the legal eagles on both sides are currently doing. Like: does the Pre use the iPhone’s implementation of ITO multi-touch screen technology? Or alternatively, one could look at the devices from a consumer perspective and see if there are sufficient grounds for suggesting that the average punter would see the Pre as a viable alternative to the iPhone. Here’s my take on the latter comparison:

  • Both are mainly portrait oriented devices with phone facilities and a large high-resolution (320×480) multi-touch screen. The screen on the Pre is slightly smaller, and coupled with the curvy body, the Pre seems more compact than the iPhone.
  • Both devices have virtual touchscreen keyboards, but the Pre also has a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard.
  • Both devices have a plethora of wireless connectivity features, but the Pre also includes Bluetooth profiles to support external devices such as stereo headphones. However, the iPhone 3G has 3G mobile networking today, whereas the Pre won’t have it for several months.
  • The iPhone is available with 16Gb of memory, while the Pre only has 8Gb. No doubt the Pre will eventually be available with more memory.
  • Office data synchronisation is available on both devices, but unlike the iPhone, the Pre’s OTA implementation is free to use.
  • The eye candy on both devices is top quality. Clear icons, intuitive gestures and responsive screen updates make using the devices a pleasure. However, the workflow on the Pre has an edge over the iPhone in being able to multi-task, with active applications visible from the “desktop”.
  • Both use WebKit-based Web browsers, with rotation and pinch-zoom capabilities. There’s talk of the Pre later supporting Flash, one of the features missing on the iPhone.
  • The operating systems on both devices have a Unix heritage, but a typical user would be unlikely to notice.
  • The Pre has a 3Mpx camera with LED flash, compared to the iPhone’s flashless 2Mpx.
  • The Pre has the option to use a cable-free charger. The iPhone requires a lead or dock, but which could potentially break the connector. The battery in the Pre is removable, and so you can maintain multiple batteries for home replacement. The battery in the iPhone can only be replaced by Apple engineers.
  • Finally, along with the Pre’s multi-tasking capability is support for copy/paste between applications. This has been a much-sought feature for the iPhone, with no sign of it coming any time soon.
If I was in the market for buying a smartphone, I’d consider the Pre and iPhone to be genuine competitors. And if Palm were to offer a 16Gb version today, my purchase choice would be a no-brainer. I’d buy the Pre.

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