iPhone 3.0 (and maybe hardware version 3 as well?) vs. Palm Pre. This summer, that's the question many would-be-smartphone purchasers just might be asking themselves. Both have their pros and cons. The iPhone has a huge profile and market presence, but the Pre has the old-school Palm faithful who have been waiting a long time for their Next Big Thing. The iPhone has massive channels and even Sprint admits they won't be advertising the Palm Pre much due to low initial supply. But those most likely to want the Palm Pre already know it's coming, where to get, and may well be reading this while already standing in line.

But what about the consumer on the edge? The consumer who has an older iPhone or Palm, or the one who's about to move up from a feature phone for the first time. What about the dreaded "undecided"? This article is for them. And, yeah, we're an iPhone blog, so make sure you head on over to our sister-site PreCentral.net. They'll keep us honest and make sure you get a full, fair representation so you can make an informed decision.

Now let's get it on... after the break!


For some, the comparison will end right here. Palm Pre has a physical, hardware-based QWERTY keyboard while the iPhone has a virtual, software-based keyboard that can be QWERTY (or anything else).

For those who need to feel those keys, the Palm Pre is the obvious choice. However, the Pre's keyboard is reportedly somewhere between a Treo Pro and a Palm Centro: softer, more gummy keys with a narrow width overall. It might not be to everyone's liking. That said, at least the Pre has one, and it's a slider to boot, which means if you don't need it, you can just tuck it away back under the screen where it came from.

The iPhone, on the other hand, can draw any kind of keyboard it wants. So if you need to type occasionally (or often) in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, or most any language, you can easily switch between those exact keyboards. You can also automagically be presented with web-optimized, or video, audio -- any task at all -- specific keyboards. Versatile if not tactile. And if you have joint problems or repetitive stress injuries, being able to touch instead of press can be literally just what the doctor ordered.

Personally, I'm better with the iPhone keyboard than I've ever been with a Palm or any other physical keyboard. But I realize I'm in the minority on this one.

Advantage: Palm Pre


In the US -- which is the only country with initial availability -- Sprint has exclusive rights to the Palm Pre, much as AT&T has a lock on the iPhone. If you don't get Sprint or AT&T in your neck of the woods, you're in for an easy choice. Likewise, if only one or the other provides high speed data -- EVDO Rev A for Sprint and HSPA for AT&T -- that might be a huge factor in your decision. Think of it like broadband vs. dial up. You want fast. And if you're international, well Canada/Bell is rumored for August and everyone else is waiting to see.

Assuming you're in the US and have roughly equal access to, and speed on, both networks, which one has the edge? (No pun intended!) Giving both carriers the customer service benefit of the doubt (you may have cause to hate either one, or both), there's still two factors to consider:

  1. AT&T is a GSM network, which means you can theoretically pop out your SIM card and put it in another mobile phone. Great in emergencies and if you travel and don't want to deal with roaming charges (though the latter depends entirely on you being willing and able to unlock your iPhone -- not something everyone does or wants to do). Sprint is CDMA, so any phone switches involves a call to your carrier at the very least.

  2. Sprint doesn't currently allow simultaneous voice and data. This means if you're talking on the Palm Pre, you can't use the web or email, and vice versa. If you're using an iPhone on AT&T's EDGE service, you'll have the same problem, but if you're on 3G, there are no worries at all. For the Palm Pre, you'd have to switch to Wi-Fi to do that.

Again, for me, using voice and data at the same time has become a must. Looking up information while out and about on a call is a frequent occurrence. If you're not accustomed to it, you may not miss it, but once you are, it's hard to go back. If everything else is a wash, that alone carries some weight.

Advantage: iPhone

Cloud Support

The "cloud", or online environment is the next big thing. We've only been told that going on a decade. Thing is, it might finally be coming true. Connectivity is ubiquitous enough, bandwidth fast enough, storage cheap enough, and social networking hot enough that everyone and their startup seems to be rolling out an online service.

Google, the undisputed king of the clouds, has their own Android platform, but they share their love equally around the mobile space. Pretty much every device is assured access to Google search, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and the rest of their services.

Apple and the iPhone leverage Google well, add in basic business support for Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync, provide their own MobileMe service for the "rest of us", and support the FaceBooks, LinkedIns, Twitters, and other networks through well made WebApps and 3rd party native applications. Good stuff.

Palm calls the Pre's foundation webOS, however, and they mean it. The Palm Pre doesn't just hook into the above mentioned services and networks, it provides a feature called Synergy which is supposed to automagically pull all your data from them, merge it together seamlessly, and provide you with a single, unified view of your contacts, calendars, and messages. Great stuff.

If you prefer local apps and like to keep your data separate -- and some certainly do -- the iPhone might be the closest you can come to that rich client experience. If you want to live in the clouds, however, the Palm Pre is blazing your path.

Advantage: Palm Pre


From the clouds back down to earth. No device exists in a vacuum. Most smartphone owners also have a computer. Maybe an MP3 player, an HD TV, and a variety other software and hardware. How do these factor in?

Palm once offered computer integration via Palm Desktop, which at this point could politely be considered abandonware, especially on the Mac side. 3rd parties have done an admirable job filling the void, but it's clear with the Pre that Palm is looking -- as we just described -- to the clouds. That's great for those aspects, but what if you have large music or video collections you want to carry around with you on your mobile? Pre will have Amazon MP3, and you'll be able to tether it via USB for disk-mode drag-and-drop, but we don't know yet what else -- if anything -- will round this out.

With the iPhone, you have Apple's 360 degree product integration to work with. You can produce or acquire content on the Mac, sync that content via iTunes on the Mac or PC, and move it -- with full bookmarking -- to the iPhone, iPods, or Apple TV. And you can go to the Apple Store if you need help learning how to do any of the above, and more. This means you can start watching a movie on your LCD, sync and keep watching it from that exact same moment on your iPhone, then get home, sync again, and finish it pretty much seamlessly on your PC.

The Palm Pre is new and liberating in the sense that if you're starting fresh, with no ties to Apple, Microsoft's Xbox or Zune, Sony's system, or anyone else's it might be just what you wanted. Likewise if you have no love or interest in iTunes or iPods.

If you prefer integrated product lines, however, if you use iPods or have a media-centric life of any kind, then it's hard not to give the nod to Apple on this one.

Advantage: iPhone


This one is a slam dunk for Apple and the iPhone, right? Not so fast! Sure, the iPhone has 35,000+ applications in the App Store, brilliant and terrible both. 1 billion downloads is nothing to sneeze at either. After all, Apple re-invented mobile software by putting one little icon on their home screen that gave instant access to tens of thousands of additional icons for every single one of their 15 million+ users (30 million+ if we count iPod touch as well). That's a juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. Based on the same, objective Cocoa superset of C, and using the same Xcode developer tools that Mac programmers are already familiar with, it gave the iPhone immediate access to just the type of design-conscious, experience-oriented developers Apple values. This has lead to great social network tools, awesome utilities, and games gorgeous enough to give Nintendo the night sweats. (And no, we're not mentioning fart apps) Sounds like it would be impossible for anyone to catch up?

Palm has legacy applications, however, and in a stroke of genius, they commissioned a Classic app that will virtuamulate (not sure of the exact technology at work there) the old PalmOS giving many (though not all) of those old apps new life. In a stroke of far greater genius, Palm based their new webOS on existing web-based technologies including HTML, CSS, and Javascript (AJAX if you prefer). Since the Palm Pre will run these locally rather than in the cloud the way WebApps do, they're closer akin to "widgets" (or "objects" for you Vista fans) but go one step further by hooking into many of the Pre-specific hardware features as well -- like the phone. Cocoa may be tasty but it's user base is tiny compared to how many people already know web application development. Combine the PalmOS back catalog with the ease of widget-style deployment and you just may have a contender.

One more thing: while the iPhone only allows Apple's apps to background multitask, Palm Pre's "card" feature allows for (around a dozen or so?) apps of all kinds -- 1st and 3rd party -- to stay open, live, and instantly accessible. Sure, iPhone 3.0 will mitigate this slightly with Push Notifications and rumors of next-generation hardware maybe supporting, but Palm Pre does it for real and does it now.

This one is tough to call. Already huge vs. potentially huge marketplace. The multitasking spear vs. the native app hammer. Which one has the advantage here will depend entirely on what's more important to you. We're wussing out.

Advantage: Tie


So there you have it. Two companies that both pride themselves on uber-tight hardware and software integration. One who's Newton spawned an industry that the other's Pilot defined and dominated, went on to converge with the Treo only to fall behind and get eclipsed by the iPhone, and is now poised to come back with the Pre. Apple's going on to the third version of their smartphone line while Palm is introducing the first version of their third act (Palm OS and Windows Mobile being the previous two).

If it seems like the only real deciding factors are where you live and work, what you want to do, and how you prefer to do it, well -- yeah. That's it. You're an adult and we're not going to butter your bread, thank you. (Though we've done our best to describe that bread to ya in advance).

Bottom line, the competition between iPhone and Pre is good for Apple and Palm -- it keeps them on their toes and on top of their games -- and it's better for us. We're lucky to live in a time and place where we have such increasingly awesome mobile options to choose between.

Come this summer, we'll have a few more choices as well. Which one will be yours?