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KELLNER: A tale of two smartphones

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

Even before the confetti from the June 6 launch of Palm's Pre smartphone had been swept away, Apple Inc. came along to pop the last remaining Pre balloon.

Two days after Palm sallied forth with its presumptive "iPhone killer," Apple cut the price on a similar-memory-sized iPhone to $99, $100 less than the Pre after a $100 rebate. Apple also announced a new version of the iPhone's operating system, due Wednesday: a free upgrade.

(Corrected paragraph:) And, come Friday, smartphone aficionados are expected to have the iPhone 3G S to contend with, starting with 16 gigabytes of memory (twice the Pre's storage) at $199 and jumping to 32 GB (or, four times the Pre) for $299, at the Pre's list price.

Is that whimpering I hear out there?

Let's start with the software. The new iPhone 3.0 software will answer some of the complaints about the iPhone, such as a lack of cutting/copying-and-pasting capabilities and the lack of a horizontal layout for e-mail and typing. You'll also be able to record voice memos, connect to a Bluetooth stereo device such as headphones (and perhaps car stereos), search the contents of your phone for a keyword or name, and have an enhanced stock tracker, if your GM shares are ever worth something.

Couple the new features with the new iPhone model and you'll also be able to shoot and send short video clips, have a 3-megapixel camera at the ready (versus 3.2 megapixels on the Pre) and have that camera focus and zoom with a tap, among other features.

New applications coming for the iPhone include a GPS application from TomTom that should offer turn-by-turn directions with voice prompts, as well as an optional car kit to hold the iPhone for hands-free viewing, even in landscape mode.

Now, it may seem unfair to tar Palm's Pre with the more-than-two-year-old iPhone's brush: The Pre is brand-spanking new, and the iPhone's been out there. But Palm's new CEO, Jon Rubenstein, is an Apple veteran, after all; he was on the iPod development team. And the world has seen what Apple has done with both the iPhone and the iPod, as well as with the App Store, which has made it easy to purchase iPhone/iPod applications via iTunes.

The success of the App Store model speaks to why T-Mobile's Android phone — using the Google-developed operating system — and Research in Motion's BlackBerry platform both have similar "stores" out there in cyberspace, each launching with more than the handful of applications Palm blessed the Pre with at its launch.

And one more thing: the Android, the BlackBerry Storm, and, yes, the iPhone, will each work outside of the United States. The Pre won't, and yet Palm imagines this device will effectively compete against the iPhone. As you might imagine, I'm a tad skeptical about that.

It's not that the Pre isn't adequate as a smartphone. Its applications are quite good, and there's plenty of potential. However, the notion that this device is likely to knock off the iPhone ranks up there with the latest theories of alchemy as ways to make vast sums of money.

The Pre remains a work in progress. There's no telling when additional applications will be available, no ideas, yet, on accessories. Yet almost within minutes of the new iPhone announcements, there were news releases saying this or that accessory would work with the 3G S model, or is being designed for it.

The reason, of course, is the vast popularity of the iPhone: Millions and millions have been sold. No media report I've seen suggests a similar surge for the Pre, and unless Palm gets moving, there may not be one.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.