June 7, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
The smartphone wars encourage comparisons. Mobile companies constantly try to one-up each other and produce an “anything you can do, I can do better” moment. While I typically try to avoid feeding into these constant comparisons, there are times when a new device forces us to take note and see how its rivals can do better. The recent launch of the Palm Pre is no different.
As more phone companies continue to embrace Android, there are a few lessons they can learn from the Palm Pre and its webOS platform.
1. Android can be more shortcut friendly
The Pre development team could write a book called Phone Multitasking for Dummies. The Pre features a “Card View” that shows running apps and allows them to be opened or closed with a quick swipe. It also can bring up apps with a simple gesture.
Android currently has a long process to close apps, and its shortcut options are limited to launching from the HTC Dream’s keyboard or long-pressing Home to bring up the last six apps opened. I would love to see Android take some inspiration (read: steal) from the Pre’s “Gestures” function and create a quick launcher. The convenience factor would greatly increase if screen gestures or long-pressing the back button could bring up favorites or most commonly used apps in a dock launcher.
2. Android can use more syncing options
Android is all about the cloud. Calendar syncs with your Google account, mail comes from Gmail, and even your app purchases are stored in Google Checkout. This is excellent and one of its best qualities. However, Android could use some desktop love, too. The Pre is cloud-friendly in webOS, but it also has syncing through the desktop, namely an ability to sync with iTunes.
Thankfully, Google team members recognize the need for a desktop client and Dan Morrill has already gone on record saying that it’s something he’d like to see happen. If and when that will happen hasn’t been established yet.
3. Android phones need more internal space
The Palm Pre has 8 GB of internal storage and no options for memory expansion. The Dream has 256 MB of internal storage and support for mini-SD cards up to 16gigs. Honestly, I’d prefer the internal storage of the Pre right now. I use an 8 GB mini-SD card and only use that much because I stockpiled MP3’s and video clips on it. I could do without having that much music if it meant that I would have more space for installing and running apps.
The internal memory limitations of the HTC Dream force me to frequently clear my cache or temporarily delete apps in order to make room for new offerings in the Android Market. The only way to avoid that is to root the phone and install apps on the SD card, which poses some warranty/know-how issues. It’s doubtful we’ll see an official, non-root solution anytime soon (if at all).
The next generation of Android phones cannot continue to carry on this memory limitation. We’ve already seen that The Samsung Galaxy is going to come with 8 GB of internal memory and a mini-SD slot to all but remove this issue. Other device manufacturers must follow suit and make sure they provide enough internal space.
4. Android phones need design improvements
Despite what parents across the world tell their children, looks matter. A lot. I am a constant champion of Android and love my T-Mobile G1, but when the issue of visual appeal or lack of 3.5mm headphone input comes up, there isn’t much I can say.
The Palm Pre reminds everyone that design is an important aspect of the phone. Though I’m not personally amazed, everyone in the store I visited remarked how great the Pre’s compact form looks and feels.
Google, notorious for a perceived love of data at the expense of appearance, needs to encourage phone makers to package their devices to look a little better. Android 1.5 brought some effective internal design changes and HTC has proven that Android is ripe for breathtaking customization. Now, we just need to hope that device manufacturers put more effort into producing similar results with the external aspects of phone design. The Galaxy is a good start.
5. Android is great
Always end on a positive note! My ultimate impression of the Pre is that it’s a beautiful phone plenty of people will love, but not good enough to make me jump ship on Android. The innovations that the Android team, Google staffers, HTC, third party developers, and others have put into Android have shown that the operating system is incredible.
I give Palm plenty of credit for junking its previous approach and evolving into a company that can produce a very solid phone. However, it also reminded me that Android phone makers have a great starting point to push the green bot to its full potential.