Deathmatch: Palm Pre versus iPhone

In our last comparison, the iPhone buried the BlackBerry. Can the new Palm Pre unseat the mobile champ?

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Brandon: The Pre offers preferences at the time and place the user needs to access them rather then centralizing them into a single overwhelming menu. I’ll concede that Palm may need to accommodate users accustomed to Control Panel or System Preferences on their desktops and, thus, expect a central location from which they can access the preferences for all apps. But does it really make sense to leave the Mail app on the iPhone to change mail settings? On the Pre, you set mail preferences in the Mail app.

Galen: The iPhone, while still trailing the BlackBerry, is a device that IT can actually manage, thanks to the basic Exchange management tools that the iPhone OS supports and to the sophisticated controls over passwords, configurations, certificates, and so on that the free Apple Configuration Utility provides. The Pre has none of this, just basic remote wiping capability comparable to the iPhone’s.

Brandon: It’s true that the Pre doesn’t have the kind of management and security functions that the iPhone now has. But it does let users set an alphanumeric password, not just a numeric one. The iPhone only allows alphanumeric passwords if you use the iPhone Configuration Utility, which individual users won’t. And the remote wipe capability on the Pre is instigated through SMS, so you can wipe a device even if you don’t use an Exchange Server -- the iPhone’s remote wipe is tied to Exchange.

And the Pre backs up its core profile data wirelessly to the service provider, while the iPhone backs up such data only to iTunes, which most large businesses would prefer not to have on corporate PCs.

[Update: The Pre WebOS 1.1 software update released on July 24 gives the Pre management capabilities via Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync policies, similar to those the iPhone has, including password requirements, inactivity timeout, and remote wipe.]

The winner: The iPhone, especially for larger businesses, though the Web OS 1.1 update narrows the iPhone's advantage. But individuals and small businesses will likely find the Pre’s security capabilities perfectly adequate and will not need the iPhone’s management functionality.

Where the Pre wins
There’s no question that the Palm Pre shows the iPhone how multitasking should be done. Apple apologists may cite the safety and security of the iPhone’s one-app-at-a-time approach, but it died on desktops nearly two decades ago and has no place in the mobile world.

And the Pre’s activity card metaphor for navigating among apps is highly intuitive, more so than always having to go back to the Home screen to switch apps, as is the case with the iPhone.

We believe that the Pre’s ability to not only run multiple apps but let them work together is a significant leap forward that the iPhone must make for its long-term viability to be assured.

Where the iPhone wins
The iPhone is a better device for business users, especially those in enterprise environments. Its ability to send calendar invites is one of those little things that make all the difference when you’re doing business on the road. And the iPhone has a bunch of better-thought-out capabilities. Plus, its management and security capabilities are much stronger than the Pre’s if you use the free iPhone Configuration Utility.

The iPhone’s device search is more capable, and its copy-and-paste functionality is both easier to use and more broadly usable. And the iPhone has a major leg up in the wealth of apps available for it.

The overall winner is ...
The Pre is a surprisingly strong competitor to the groundbreaking iPhone. RIM’s efforts to compete with the iPhone have been uninspiring; the Google Android platform turned out to be a weak competitor, too wrapped up in Google’s offerings to the exclusion of the business world; and Microsoft has been AWOL.

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