How Apple's iPhone Team Saved the Palm Pre?


Yeah, provocative headline, but we've lamented in that past that the Palm Pre was too iPhone-like for us -- based on the involvement of transplanted Apple brain trust -- and how we'd have loved to have seen a truly next generation Palm device. Could it be, however, that the former have saved us from being tragically wrong about the latter?

We'd heard before how the previous Apple iPod-lead Jon Rubinstein argued and lost with Steve Jobs over a hardware keyboard on the iPhone (much as Tony Fadell, "father of the iPod" and another former Apple exec, argued and lost over using Linux rather than OS X on the iPhone). Flash forward and Rubenstein is recruited by new Palm backers, Elevation Partners, to help oversee the development of Palm's next generation handset -- and potential company-saving gadget -- the Palm Pre. (And Rubinstein brought over iPhone engineers and Apple PR people to help).

So what's new? According to Fortune (via it turns out Rubenstein first had to save the Palm Pre from Palm:

Rubinstein started, in his words, "hanging out" with Palm people in late June. He didn't like what he saw. The hardware for the Pre needed to be scrapped and rebooted. For one thing, prototypes were using old "resistive" touchscreen technology that responds to a user physically pushing the screen, not the newer "capacitive" technology manipulated by the electricity in the user's body. Rubinstein tossed out the old phone's hardware and built a new one in about 15 months. "We were basically running a marathon and doing a heart transplant in the middle of it," says Rubinstein.

We've joked before that the device we all know and love is Steve Jobs' vision of the iPhone, and that the Palm Pre is Jon Rubenstein's vision of the iPhone, and guess what? We might have been exactly right.

(And does that mean if Rubenstein and Fadell had won their arguments, maybe the iPhone would have been the Palm Pre fully two years ago? We're ecstatic they didn't and it wasn't because now we get to have both visionary products to choose from -- and to compete for our choice.)

Only question is, where can we see that Palm-like Pre prototype?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

How Apple's iPhone Team Saved the Palm Pre?


Right now the pre looks very enticing. It's multitasking abilities and ingenius gesture area below the touchscreen make it stand out. But, the thought of having to go back to a physical keyboard is what kills it for me. The pre might win against the iPhone right now, but once apple does their magic and introduces the next generation iPhone, I can just see the pre being smashed.

If you look at this from a "average" customer perspective, I don't think the Pre will win many. Also, their lack of effective advertising doesn't give the consumer an idea of the power of the Pre. However, iPhone is a name that has become as standard as iPod. Just on the brand, Palm has a huge uphill. However, the techies among us know the Pre, its capabilities and its potential. The techies will buy, but as we all know, it is the average customer that makes a device win or lose.
I am pulling for the Pre. I'm actually excited to play with it, but not in replacing my iPhone anytime soon. Let's hope Apple brings something exciting to the table in the next month or two.

If I take my SIM card out of my Treo 650 and place it in the new PRE will it work????? I am with ATT....

I'm looking forward to seeing the Palm Pre, but if it can't do for me what my iPhone can, then it won't be anything more than a passing interest.

The physical keyboard of the Pre is actually the biggest concern to me. One of the biggest issues I have with the iPhone is the lack of multitasking. I don't think push notifications are going to help me much when trying to run Slacker Radio and a GPS app at the same time.
However, if the keyboard is anything like the Treo Pro's, which I hear it is, then that would be a deal killer for me. I don't see how anyone without the most tiny and slender fingers, could use that thing...

The Pre will not work on ATT's network or any network other than Spint's. The Pre is CDMA and doesn't use the SIM card

Well, it's on sprint in the US, but there will be a gsm version later this year I believe released overseas. Which you will be able to pop your sim into. But the caveat is that it probably lacks att's 3g bands.


I don’t see how anyone without the most tiny and slender fingers, could use that thing…

But isn't that the exact complaint leveled against the iPhone on screen keyboard since the day it came out?
Most people thumb type on these small devices, but that's proven really impracticable on the iPhone. Even in landscape mode its a challenge.
What worries me about the Pre keyboard is how far down it is.
Watch texters working on most phones and you will see it nestled in their finger tips while they go at the keyboard with both thumbs.
But the Pre has the bulk of the phone body and weight above the keyboard. This makes it seem top heavy and hard to hold with your finger tips while you thumb-type.
This could lead to a lot of dropped phones.
How do you put a protective case on a slider phone?
The upside about the Pre is they have the option of adding an on-screen keyboard. It only takes software.

I type faster, more accurately and with less effort on the iPhone than I did on a Treo 680. To say that thumb-typing has proven impractical on the iPhone is just plain wrong.
The keyboard on the Pre is too small, adds bulk, and limits the flexibility of the device.

I think it’s a stupid idea to launch Pre just a few days before WWDC. I don’t think it will be selling like hotcakes.

I don't think they compete that much since they are on different incompatible networks. The networks getting the Pre finally have something to offer their subscribers who want to move up.
New users or those who don't care if they have to switch networks can sit back and watch both shows and them choose based on price/features.
Should they wait till after WWDC?

To say that thumb-typing has proven impractical on the iPhone is just plain wrong.

I've watched teens among my family and friends texting.
The fastest are using Blackberrys and Sidekicks and a couple other QWERTY sliders.
Next are the old candybar style phones, even the ghetto Razrs, with a good predictive text engines.
The slowest are the iPhone users, who spend more time correcting than typing.
(Still, all those kids want an iPhone, even the Blackberry user).
I'm not alone in this observation.

I'd have to disagree. I type on my iPhone way faster than I used to type on my Blackberry (and I used to be very quick on my BlackBerry). I have to mention that there is some getting used to the keyboard, although not very long. The fact that you dont need to press down on a button, that you can just tap a letter is what allows me to type faster.
I think you are overemphasizing the "spending more time correcting than typing", it is not nearly as bad as what you imply. For one, the auto correction is pretty good, and two, typing on my BlackBerry needed "correcting" as well.

I'm pulling for the Palm Pre. I used to have an Treo 650 & 680 before my iPhone. I think the Pre is an iPhone killer at heart but nothing about the phone screams fun. It doesn't excite me when looking at it. It has a nice UI but nothing that temps me to ditch my iPhone! I don't think there's anything sexy about the design and from the look of the keyboard I don't I'll type any better using it over the iPhone's virtual keyboard. I think they don't have a chance touch Apple. If anything they should aim for Blackberry because all they got going for them is really great push email.
Overall I do like what Palm is doing and I wish them the best and if the iPhone didn't exist and they just so happen to make the Pre. I would be on board!

I am glad you posted this article, I heard about webOS (NOVA) last November, the person who brought Palms new OS to my attention also hinted that the Pre was supposed to be where the iphone is. In fact, everything about the current Pre should (could) have been Apples baby. This also confirms what a lot of folks have said, the idea of the Pre did come before the iphone. Apple is going to be the new Verizon, they're (Apple) going to wish they went with the Pre's development. The fact that you can pull the keyboard out on the Pre and start typing to initiate Global Search is HUGE!
Speaking of Global Search, not only does it search the Pre, it searches Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia and Twitter. That's the beauty of Synergy.

With the 3.0 update,you swipe left or hit the center button on your iPhone and you have universal search too. So, sliding the Pre up and swiping or hitting the middle button is a pretty comparable motion. I'll even admit that perhaps the swipe is much easier, so your argument is moot at this point.
Also, that the idea of the Pre "before the iPhone" point is not valid. When Rubenstein left, after arguing with Jobs on design (while working on iPhone) then he took his ideas and applied them to the upcoming Pre. Palm had something physical in mind (just like they did with the Palm Pro), but nothing as exciting as the Pre we know today. This is Rubenstein's baby and you can clearly see lots of Apple inspiration in it (gestures, Cards view a rip-off of how Safari behaves, some UI elements).

The keyboard on the iPhone is quicker. The "make more mistakes" option is flawed, it auto-corrects mistakes! WebOS might have a good future and keep Palm alive, but the Pre hardware isn't going to save Palm.

Seeing as I have fat fingers, I'm perfect for this debate. I have zero issues with the iPhone keyboard. I type faster than I ever have on any other phone, and once you get past a day of use, you're fine. People who have issues either aren't trying hard enough or just don't want to like it.

I don't think people here realize the pluses of the Pre keyboard.

  • it doesn't take up half the screen when in use
  • you can use it off the card screen to do global searches by just pulling it down instead of swiping to the search screen as in the iPhone
  • you can use it in a local application such as calender, contacts, messaging and notes to do a local search by simply sliding down the keyboard and typing
  • you have quick keyboard search in contacts without taking up half the screen!
  • You can use keyboard commands for things such as cut,copy, paste allowing for more possibilities of interface interaction without cluttering the screen with buttons

My point is that a physical keyboard is more useful than just typing messages... It's especially nice to be able to see the whole screen again while typing..

Blah blah about a device that doesn't exist yet. Nobody(general public) will want one. Heck, there's winmo phones that outspec the iPhone. I think people love the sexy cool "iPod" that makes calls & other things. Stop hyping the palm. Nobody cool wants one$.

Thanks for the silliest post I have read in ages - I especially like the the way you repeated the same point three times.
Last time I looked, the iPhone's screen wasn't "cluttered with buttons" - perhaps you're referring to the tiny slide out keyboard on the Pre which, to use an old-fashioned phrase, appears to be "neither use nor ornament".

You welcome mystic. Sometimes it takes repetition to get the point across. Other nice features:

  • multitasking: writing an email while viewing another email or website at the same time, running pandora in the background
  • settings are all right in the current application rather than a separate setting app as on the iphone.
  • Synergy: facebook is my address book. Whenever someone changes their phone or email - I don't have to do anything..
  • notifications: slide in and out and stay out of the way. I don't have to quit the application I am in in order to use sms
  • gesture bar: much more elegant way to navigate applications
  • better ergonomics. The iPhone doesn't sit well in the palm of the hand.. it's a bit to thin.
  • more flexible development environment. many would disagree with me here but I am not a fan of the Cocoa model. I'm more interested in simple, socially connected games rather than battery sucking 3d games on my phone..
  • free of legacy iTunes model. I've synced with iTunes only to find long waits and at times major errors. I want to be able to get my media from sources other than itunes. I like audible to get audiobooks. I like netflix to rent movies. I like pandora for music. I like amazon for books. Palm pre has a chance to get netflix and audible where as apple would probably prevent them from appearing on the iphone.
  • free of I use google mail. I feel like a second class citizen on the iPhone. Apple makes great software and hardware but I want other services like google and facebook to be as first class citizens on my device.

Hey, I already have the iPhone and like it - but I'm excited about the Pre - seems to have gotten a lot of things right and should do well along with the iPhone for those who want the above features.

What exactly is a troll? I mean what do y'all mean when you call someone a troll here?
If the pre ends up costing less than the iPhone then it may have a chance. There are alot of people that think me crazy for having spent 599 dollors just for a phone. Of course I love the purchase I have made and cannot wait till the nexgen iPhone.

Oh! As to the keyboard debate. I am not a fan of a physical keyboard. They're dirty, they can break, and I type much faster on the iPhone.

That is true Chobbs. What I like about the iPhone keyboard is that it's light to the touch (no repetitive stress injury) and you can see it in the dark. I don't know if I'll be able to see the pre keyboard in the night.. I might actually prefer a slide out digital keyboard because I don't like how the iphone keyboard overlays the interface..

You know why the iPhone is the best. Because it's not what it can do only that make it the best mobile device in the world but it is the way it does things.
The iPhone is a piece of Apple, Inc everyone knows that Apple releases some great products. And to be able to purchase at prices ranging from 99$ to 300$ that is a even better reason to have everyone wanting more of Apple.
I have encouraged over 30 plus people in getting a iPhone 3g. They either get it the same day or within the week. Why?
Because I promote the iPhone as a mini computer that just so happen to beable to make phone calls.
Ya it's true: spell check not available, the keyboard take up 70% of the screen in landscape mode and the cut and paste options was not released until 2 years later after it's first release. But when one as had an iPhone for about a week. And has took full advantage of the rich emails that come just like they suppose to unlike what I get with my blackberry or being able to get the full internet experience who cares about the rest. When it come to sms it's a great thing to be able to have all of your SMS saved similar to blackberry. Nope, us iPhone users are unable to forward SMS with 2.1 or participate in the little childish forward to ten people SMS messages. But these are things that we can do without. Because no over phone comes close to the same experience the iPhone delivers.
Blackbery storm is a mistake upon arrival and hurt Blackberry credibility if anything. I'm shocked that Verizon even allowed that unfinished business of a PDA in their line up. And VERIZON by passed the iphone which made the or deal even worth. Here, Verizon and Apple could have been more the untouchable companies in the industry.
Palm Pre is a great device not side by side to the iPhone but the closes thing to it. Palm as a business is failing. Palm themselves need not to gather what others have done and bring it in a device they need to bring what they thought of and change the smartphone industry and begin a new niche for themselves. Palm can only go so far as to where Apple will led them. I'm pretty sure once the customers of Sprint get their hands in the Palm Pre the truth will be reveaedl like it was with the blackberry storm, lg voyager, the google g1, and all of these so call iPhone killers. The companies are trying to stay alive versus giving us the consumer new and innovative products to purchase. In the future you may see not only car, mobile networks, etc buying eachother out of business but your going to be see manufacturers who can't handle the fire of today smartphone get bought out by the hungry innovative work of greater smartphone companies.
iPhone is a computer that just so happen to be able to make phone calls. Apple use to be called Apple Computer, Inc. dont forget the obvious.

Are you guys (the writer of this article) on crack??? The iphone exists because Palm didn't improve on its PalmOS. If you have ever used a Treo (I had a Treo 680 before the iphone) you would easily see that the iphone took the palmOS concept and just modernized it. If any fingers are being pointed with regards to copying ideas... it should be at apple.

The treo is one of the most dificult phones to use. The iPhone is just the opposite. I have to owned a treo and a centro and I will never go back.

About the applications.. It is just web-like aren't they? So all this multitasking is just like flipping tabs in safari disguised in the phone's ui?

This is the best discussion I've seen on the web about the iPhone v. yet to be released Pre. The posters don't even agree on whether the iPhone touch screen is superior to a slideout keyboard said to resemble the Treo. I like the features offered by the Pre but it will all come down to price ... especially with the price of the iPhone having been recently cut.

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