In case you missed the keynote, Palm took some special moments to let everyone know that they're not trying to compete with Apple -- which is of course exactly what they're doing with the Pre and webOS. Sure, there's plenty of room in the market for multiple operating systems and manufacturers, as both companies have pointed out, but we can't help but think that Palm took a long hard look at where Apple was at with its ultra-successful mobile OS and what they could improve upon, and we would like to assume that Apple is looking very carefully at webOS right now (and hopefully the Pre's physical keyboard, but we're dreamers) and comparing it with its current iPhone OS. So, if you'll indulge us, let's look at a few of the iPhone's existing shortcomings that Apple might try and shore up -- or perhaps already has fixes in the works for -- now that there's some very serious competition on the scene. Plus, with Steve on the sidelines, we can imagine there's some extra pressure on the company to prove that innovation at Apple is not just about one man.

These are by no means the only two phones that matter right now, but there are enough parallels and common ancestry (a certain John Rubinstein) to make this a natural first round of comparison. All the magic happens after the break.


Where Apple might need to catch up:

Push notifications
Apple was showing off what (at the time) seemed to be some pretty great push functionality back in June of last year, but since then Android and now webOS make Apple's implementation seem decidedly dated -- not to mention the fact that Apple still hasn't launched the promised functionality. Apple needs to make notifications universal (for whatever service and wherever you are in the OS), easy to act on and informative but at the same time unobtrusive, and they've got a long way to go on all fronts.

Developer freedom, transparency
Happily, Apple seems to be getting better at this as we speak, allowing a bunch of Safari-alternatives through today that would've been previously seen as a violation of its "no duplicate functionality" policy. We also just spotted a CoPilot GPS app running live on an iPhone, and it seems unlikely that a major developer would do all that work if Apple wasn't going to let it through the App Store. Still, Apple needs to do a better of job of being up front with developers, and stop making silly restrictions on the release of truly useful apps.

Multitasking
Apple only needs to look as far as the Jailbreak community to see some great multitasking in action, but hopefully it's going to take a look at what Palm is doing with its "cards" method of switching through apps -- quite similar to Apple's own tabs interface for Safari -- and give the people what they want.

Synergy contacts
Oddly enough, the Pre wasn't the first time we saw a device running this sort of contacts integration, 3's INQ1, a sorta-dumbphone from the UK, showed off this Synergy-style integration of social networking, IM and regular contact info last year. This isn't a new concept, and shouldn't be difficult to accomplish with most modern mobile operating systems, but for some reason Palm was the first company to manage to do this right in a smartphone OS -- we hope Apple catches on quick.

IM integration
For a company that touts its own iChat app as one of the cornerstones of the desktop experience, Apple's been strangely reluctant to integrate IM into the iPhone, instead leaning on 3rd party developers to do it. The Pre shows that IM shouldn't be an afterthought, it should be tightly integrated into contacts and text messaging.

Ease of development with web standards
Granted, Mobile OS X has been widely touted for its ease of development, but we're surprised that Apple hasn't at least duplicated its own Dashboard Widgets -- which are just little self-contained WebKit-powered modules, with some similarities to webOS apps, minus the deeper OS integration. Is there room for a compromise here? The App Store isn't lacking for apps, but an increase in developers never hurt anyone.

Spotlight-style functionality

Another feature that Apple could've easily ripped straight from its desktop experience, but Palm beat them to the punch. As the iPhone is saddled with more contacts, emails, bookmarks and apps, a universal search seems like a really easy solution to the problem of complexity. If nothing else, Apple needs to look at the number of steps it takes to perform certain important functions like making calls -- a bit less of bouncing in and out of the home screen could really do the body good.

Speed
We haven't seen a final version of the Pre in action yet, but what we did see seemed really wicked fast. And this isn't just about who can render the most FPS or scroll through a webpage better, this is about vehemently fighting off the general lag that can creep into an increasingly bloated operating system. Apple claims it's staving off multitasking to keep the OS responsive, we're wondering why our SMS screen is still loading.

Keyboard, removable battery
This isn't software, so it's sort of out of the purview of what we're talking about here, but we like physical keyboards, and we like the fact that Palm gives us the option. Some of us also like Apple's touchscreen keyboard, so we wouldn't mind Palm coming out with another device that just does touchscreen, and perhaps another keyboard device for the landscape-oriented among us. Since Palm doesn't have a paralyzing fear of buttons, pretty much anything is possible. Oh, and that removable battery is Just Good Sense.

Copy and paste
Seriously. Please?

Where Apple's still winning:

Native development
Web-style development (with delightfully sharp claws into the OS innards) might be webOS's strong suit, but it also means webOS misses out on some of the incredibly powerful apps the iPhone is capable of. 3D games are the big one, but other things might be difficult -- if you haven't seen it done on a browser, you might not see it in your phone.

Learning curve

Apple's incredibly simple "this is the home screen, this button sends you there" usage model bests pretty much every other smartphone out there in so far as ease of use -- Palm might have to spend some time and money on ads and mindshare for its slightly-more-complicated gesture system to catch on.

Ecosystem
Shall we count the ways? iTunes, MobileMe, App Store... Palm's probably right in thinking mainly about the cloud, but right now if you plug an iPhone into a computer, stuff gets done. Podcasts and MP3s zoom across, contacts sync, calendars compare notes. Not only that, but Apple is hard at work on a full-on web experience in MobileMe involving sync "in the cloud" from desktop to internet to phone and back again. Palm has chosen, perhaps wisely in many cases, to work with third parties like Google (Gmail, Google Calendar) Amazon (MP3 store) and Microsoft (Exchange) for getting stuff on and off the internet, but has no real answer to the juggernaut that is iTunes, or Apple's dexterity in this space.

Where Android is still winning:

Perfect Gmail
'Nuff said? We don't want an IMAP client to look at our Gmail, we want the Gmail experience on our phone, whenever, wherever. Don't make us come over there...

Open source
Oddly, Google and friends have foregone the traditional benefits of open source like distributed development -- at least so far -- but picked up others, like the fact that the OS is free and can be put on any device you can hack it into. This is really great, and while we don't expect Palm or Apple to start giving away their OSs, we'd love it if they did.

Notification drawer
This might be a toss up with webOS's notification style, but we're thinking Android's super-slick notification drawer might still have the edge here, both for unobtrusiveness and functionality.

Where BlackBerry and Windows Mobile are still winning:


Corporate integration
It's not sexy, but playing nice with business back-end and IT departments sells phones and -- guess what -- there are a lot of people out there actually trying to get work done on these things.

Document editing
Another element in the "getting work done" arena: if you want to edit an Excel, Word or PowerPoint document, you're probably not going to turn to a Pre or an iPhone to do it. Hopefully Palm announces something along these lines soon, they've classically been strong here, and it shouldn't be impossible to pull off in webOS, but right now the win clearly goes to Windows Mobile, with RIM a strong second.

Form factors
BlackBerry's keyboards are legendary, and HTC's phones hit almost every high point you could ask for in design and form factors -- some people just need that landscape keyboard, or landscape keyboard + numeric keypad with a triple swivel, etc.

Other things
We know there's a lot of stuff that Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, S60 and even the existing Palm OS can do that have yet to be mastered or even addressed by the iPhone, Android or webOS, so consider this a placeholder for "favorite feature X" that you just can't live without, and be sure to bring it up in the comments!

Where we all lose:

AT&T and Sprint exclusivity
We're not crazy people, we know why it's in Palm and Apple's best interest to partner with a carrier, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. AT&T has showed a continued inability to get 3G right, and a continued ability to drop iPhone calls left and right (granted, much of this could be blamed on the iPhone's chipset... whatever it is, it needs to be fixed). Meanwhile, nearly everyone we know has a bad Sprint service anecdote to share -- the carrier, while fairly strong at 3G data, has some serious problems, and those problems won't just go away when Pre users start hitting it up for bet-settling Wikipedia entries.

Wrap-up:

Now, the beautiful thing about the head start that Apple has gotten in this "next-gen mobile OS" space is that it could have very well been already at work on some of these problems for the next iPhone or the next update -- we sure hope so. What we also hope is clear to all parties involved is that there's no laurels-resting to be had here, we haven't reached a plateau in smartphone development, we've really only begun. Here's to whatever magic the next few years will bring to our humble pockets.

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