Palm Pre Is the Most Open Mobile Platform on the Market
You're lucky that you missed the review I had written of Palm's Pre after working with it for six weeks. I couldn't see the attraction. The $299 that Sprint charges to let you out of the store with the Pre isn't justified by the phone's out-of-the-box features, and the anemic App Catalog presents few opportunities to elevate the device to the capabilities of others in its lofty price range. The Pre isn't a bad phone, but it's simply not worth the $200 to $250 premium over the BlackBerry Curve, the T-Mobile G1, and the iPhone 3G.
[ How does the Palm Pre stack up against the iPhone? See "Deathmatch: Palm Pre versus iPhone" and see the Palm Pre versus iPhone side by side in InfoWorld's comparative slideshow. Also compare the BlackBerry Bold and iPhone 3G in our "BlackBerry vs. iPhone, side by side" slideshow. ]
Where's the Mojo?
On paper, part of WebOS' appeal is that a Pre user can edit script, HTML, and style sheet files to adapt the device to their liking, and the Web-based approach reached all the way up to the top level of the GUI. I liked this idea, not just for individuals, but for broad corporate or organizational deployments of devices. I was OK with the Pre's consumery feel, knowing it wouldn't take much effort to clear out the gimmicks that cast a cheap pallor on the phone and make a professional user's experience uneven.
[ Dive deep into mobile 2.0 technology with InfoWorld's "mobile 2.0" PDF special report. ]
Something more concrete than this turned around my review of Palm Pre. The Mojo SDK is all about creating, installing, and debugging locally hosted Web apps. But an unexpected part of the SDK kicks Pre into Developer Mode, which opens Pre's Linux to remote login. Once in the Pre's command shell, you discover how robust and open the Linux OS at WebOS' base really is. I think that once Pre developers get into the SDK, they will fall prey to the allure of the command line, shell script, and C. There isn't another mainstream mobile phone that is as effectively rooted at the factory.
Competitors will probably be all over Palm's (current) policy to permit Pre users relatively easy privileged access to the phone's Linux. I think Palm handled it well; the Pre is invulnerable to remote access unless its owner follows a somewhat tedious process to activate Developer Mode, and Palm made locking the phone back down a one-touch operation.
$299 is too much to pay for the Pre as a smartphone, but it is the right price for an open mobile platform. I understand now why Palm was reluctant to let the SDK go public, but Palm's little secret turned out to define Pre's niche in the market.