June 1: Phone wars hotting up

Posted on by Mike Evans

Palmpre15 WE ARE now into the week before the week of revelation. It's pre-Pre week and also pre-Apple WDC week and the rumours are now turning into facts. Look at this Boy Genius review of the Palm Pre and you'll get a good idea of what is coming on D-Day. While Nik Sarkozy and Barak O are making sand castles on the Normany beaches (with Gordo Brown buried up to his neck in seaweed), Palm are introducing the much-hyped Pre. If Boy Genius is to be believed, there are some flaws in this resurrection of the Palm brand. Noticeably, the physical keyboard is not as good as RIM can produce for the BlackBerry and not as quick as Apple's soft keyboard. And, while the screen is rated as excellent, the build quality gets a definite thumbs down. 

Recently we've seen a number of commentators taking the view that physical keyboards on phones are dead in the water. Most BlackBerry users swear by the keyboard and we've often had misgivings about even the best-of-the-bunch Apple soft keyboard. But it is a fact that a physical keyboard takes up space and increases the depth of the phone. Either it is on the front of the phone, as with BlackBerry, and results in a smaller screen, or it slides out, Pre-style, and increases the depth. We've never been a great fan of sliding keyboards because they emphasise any shortcomings in build quality. The iPhone, by contrast, is rock-solid with its glass screen and faultless build. It's a thing of beauty, tactile and pleasing. 

Palm clearly want to Pre-empt the launch of the new third-generation iPhone at the Apple WDC in San Francisco next Monday. Again, the rumours are firming up and it looks like we will see an improved phone but in the same form factor as the current iPhone and with a virtually identical appearance. Some commentators have suggested a matte rear case and, possibly, a metallic black or grey bezel. What is generally accepted, is that the camera will be uprated to 3.2 megapixels and will have auto-focus (particularly useful for copying bills for import into expense apps and storage apps such as Evernote. The lack of an auto-focus camera has held back this market.

We are also expecting a faster processor, battery battery life, MMS messaging and background running of selected applications (such as messaging apps where you need notification of incoming traffic). Apple have already told us they will not implement full multi-tasking because of the effect on battery life. It will be interesting to see what the Palm's battery life is like in view of multi-tasking availability on their Web OS system.

Whatever the shape and scope of the 3rd generation iPhone, it is already certain that many of the software improvements will be available for existing users. No one expects the new iPhone to be in retail stores next week, but the launch should whet appetites and prevent many original iPhone users from stopping their AT&T contracts: something that Apple fears and Palm is hoping for. 

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