The Indie Phone Maker’s Last Stand

The Indie Phone Maker’s Last Stand

The Palm Pre unveiling stands in my memory as one of the most refreshing moments in modern history. Palm had done it – they had created a great phone Nokia would kill for. But today, that’s just not enough.

As Palm teeters on the brink of either ruin or acquisition, let’s count all the things they did right:

• They abandoned an entrenched but aging platform for something new an innovative, and they didn’t half-arse it: Palm OS was dead, WebOS was here.

• WebOS was actually good. If you discounted the lack of apps at launch, it was arguably more capable than anything else on the market.

• The Pre was totally buyable. It’s one of the few smartphone’s I’d consider buying, and would also recommend to the rest of my family. Good hardware, too.

• They got huge buzz, and they earned it.

Sure, their app ecosystem was slow to develop, and their TV ads were underwhelming at their best, and creepy at their worst. But that’s not what really matters, right? Palm accomplished something with the Pre, and we could all see that.

This was the line from Jason’s Pre review that he caught the most flak for, but seriously, fuck that, it was completely right:

I’m bored of the iPhone. The core functionality and design have remained the same for the last two years, and since 3.0 is just more of the same, and-barring some kind of June surprise-that’s another year of the same old icons and swiping and pinching. It’s time for something different.

The Pre’s spell was such that it made everything else feel old. Palm made something different – and it was something we would have paid obscene amounts of money for just a year prior. More than anything, Palm succeeded wildly at reinventing its products, its company and its image, by its own standards and by ours.

The problem is, it’s not 2006 anymore. Those standards don’t apply.

There was a time when it was enough for a company like Palm to release a fantastic phone, and for years, that’s exactly what they focused on. But today, to fight in the smartphone wars is to fight against multi-platform giants. And the rules of engagement have changed: It’s no longer phone vs phone, or mobile OS vs mobile OS. Today there are apps, and even if a phone maker nails that ecosystem, they have to integrate it into the company’s other stuff: desktops, tablets, the livingroom, the workplace, and soon the car, bathroom and all the music, movies, TV and reading any given human wants to do on all their stuff.

The era of the standalone smartphone company is over. To say it plainly: To make the best phone, it’s not enough to simply make the best phone.

And that is a sad thing.