Palm Pre = Pre-mature For Safe Usage?

I was intrigued by Verizon’s release of the Palm Pre Plus, having been a long time Palm Treo user. Using it for my own web site and law office management purposes, it seemed that the hardware keyboard and other capabilities would be a major boon. After peeking at the WebOS, I was very impressed but had several basic questions about how synchronization and backup processes function amongst several others. After performing research, I’m wondering whether Verizon Wireless appears hesitant to promote the exclusive Palm Pre Plus, perhaps what may still be the premature release of a new smart phone for business operation.

Like Apple, Palm seems to believe that convincing users that wired connections are “old” and that wireless is “modern” and the only way to go. As such, there is better but limited connectivity of the Palm and your desktop device. The cool “Touchstone” which charges the phone and is actually plugged into the USB port (optionally into the wall) does little more than do just that – charge the device. It is not capable of mounting the phone as a hard drive, which requires a Pre owner to connect the device using another standard USB cable. The utility of this is beyond my comprehension but we can get past that inefficiency for the moment. I’ll explain later how this all ties into the sync of your phone with your PC – or rather the lack of it and the supposed need to do so.

Palms next bit of market circulates around the magic “cloud” which everything backs up – or perhaps not quite everything as most users are led to believe. Other than a “Palm profile” which you create, any other data stored on the phone is apparently not backed up. Give that wired sync is now considered “passe”, this leaves the Palm Pre without an adequate full backup and restore method. In contrast, the wireless “always connected” iPhone backs up the entire phone via iTunes’ connection to your dekstop via a wire. Syncing individual applications with your desktop applications is a time consuming mess (each one must be performed individually after pairing the two via WiFi) but at least you can restore a phone with all the data you had at the time of the loss, damage or corruption of the phone or its data. For those of you in a legal practice, I wonder how many of you will be thrilled to find out that it appears to be difficult or impossible to perform full local backups of your data. With regard to the data that can be backed up on the Palm Pre, it may be stored to a “cloud” of servers that belong to a third party, to which you may not even be in privity of contract and stored in an entirely different country.

Another issue that concerned me was synchronization on the Palm Pre and WebOs. There still aren’t many applications available for the Palm but, since Palm has apparently removed “hotsync” or the automatic synchronization of the phone with the desktop, it’s uncertain what must be done to synchronize all the third party applications you may buy for the iPhone and have counterparts you’d use on your desktop and netbook. At this late stage in the game, it appears that many third party developers are not being enticed by the Palm bounty being offered to create applications.  It’s difficult to tell what may be required of a developer to bring an application to market other than standalone games.

I’d like to point out that the Palm Pixi and the Pre Plus with WebOS represent some great, exciting innovations. But given the speed and growth of the marketplace, I’m wondering how Palm will weather the storm of competition. Apparently the API still doesn’t even allow developers to create microphone aided applications such as voice dialing, which for many of my fellow attorneys is critical in using your valuable time while commuting to and from the office. The inability to provide local backup and synchronization is, to me, a huge gaffe by Palm. Perhaps they were too consumed with addressing the iPhone market by investing more time in solving how the phone may sync with iTunes. As such, this puts the Pre into the “gaming consumer” category more than it does the “professional consumer” category which is a market the Palm Treos served well for a long time.

At this point Verizon Wireless seems to be placing bets on its future with Google’s Android based phones. The Droid campaign was ubiquitous and sales of the phone and others have been at an astounding pace. The Droid is supposedly topped by the Nexus One, an ultra powerful Android phone with hardware specifications that far outpace the more modest but easier to use Palm Pre Plus with WebOS. With almost 20,000 applications and a large variety of hardware, it’s difficult to ignore choosing an Android phone as an alternative. Whether or not you like Apple’s walled garden iPhone, it too will apparently be available at some point on CDMA networks. The question I’d ask if considering whether to invest in the Palm WebOS and its shrinking market share (approximately 3% or less) is whether Palm will continue to exist in 2011. Will it’s technology will be purchased by another company and eventually merged into another platform?

I’d enjoy hearing other opinions and suggestions on how the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi can conquer what seems to be a rather huge hole in its offering to business and legal professionals.

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq. – has written posts on The Law Professor.

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq.

Internet / Mobile entrepreneur since 1989, Intellectual Property attorney since the mid 1990s, former in-house counsel at iVillage.com, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy at Zedge, Co-Founder of the IDT Internet Mobile Group, E-Discovery expert and legal consultant with Kroll Ontrack, and owner and operator of TheLaw.com