What has this shown us? It makes it clear that simply adding extra features doesn’t work. Adding a 5MP camera is no more likely to topple the iPhone than adding an FM radio worked to beat the iPod. The reasons for the success of the iPhone are subtler and harder to see.
Here’s what the Pre needs to do to make a dent.
Be Fun to Use
Arguably, almost every cellphone before the iPhone was horrible to use, a monstrosity of hard-to-access features and bad UI decisions. Because every phone was as bad, the manufacturers got away with it. The Pre enters a post-iPhone world. The iPhone’s UI is not only easy and intuitive but a joy to use. Little tweaks, animations and subtle guides combine to make the iPhone fun to just play with.
The Pre’s wiggly strip, its un-intrusive pop-up notifications and its “card" metaphor are all good candidates for this. And when you see the “window-blind" expandable menus for the first time, I dare you not to crack a smile.
The iPhone is lacking in many features — just look at the reception that the addition of cut-and-paste got at the OS 3.0 announcement. But the beauty of the iPhone model is the App Store, which means developers can add almost any missing feature they like. Every smartphone can run third party applications, but Apple was the first company to make it so easy that it’s hard not to buy apps.
Palm needs to make sure the Pre has a store at least as good as the iTunes Store, and — unlike Apple — it doesn’t have the luxury of spending a year making it. The Pre needs to launch with a perfect, well stocked store to stand a chance. Pandora and Amazon have already signed up, so its off to a good start.
An Kick-Ass Ad Campaign
One of the secrets of Apple’s success is brand awareness. Nobody goes to the store to buy an “MP3 player"; they go to buy an iPod. And so the iPhone, too, isn’t seen to be the same as a phone. The iPhone exists in a category of its own.
To have a chance of really competing, rather than being a respectable also-ran, the Pre needs to become a household name, and to garner similar buzz to that surrounding Apple’s phone. This is starting with the tech blogs — we are almost universally excited by the Pre, but it needs to go mainstream. Other than the BlackBerry and the iPhone, name another handset that get regular coverage in regular news and newspapers.
One More Thing
While Palm shouldn’t try too hard to push the Pre as an iPhone competitor, it needs to have something to differentiate it from the Stupendabrick. And it has it — a keyboard. The iPhone is, like the iPod Touch, a mobile computer, a handheld pocket-box tht can do anything thanks to its very simple hardware design. The Pre is a phone, albeit a good one, and it has the keyboard to prove it.
For many, the lack of a hardware keyboard on the iPhone is a “deal-breaker". For them, the Pre might be just the thing, although with 30 million already sold, the iPhone/iPod Touch on-screen keys can’t be that bad.