Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Failures

The world is abuzz with the Palm Pre, hailed as the first real possible iPhone killer, it offers every advantage of the fabled phone with extras kicked in. But is it a fair fight? you don’t have to look very hard to find features and interface enhancements borrowed from other phones and OS’s. Clearly the Pre wouldn’t be what it is without its predecessors’ hard won innovations. Using the most obvious example, multi-touch technology and ideas have been around since ’82, but Apple was the first to envision its use in the mobile space. It’s a clear winner in the user interface game, no question about that; Palm must have liked it too, they included it on the Pre.

However, if you sit through Palm’s keynote speech, they clearly don’t care about what they borrowed very much. They throw in multi-touch once just to show its there and then dismiss it. The bottom-of-screen app bar is an assumed interface, nevermind its similarity to the iPhone. The fast and reliable Webkit browser, no longer unique or special, move along. Robust 3rd-party driven app marketplace? Check.

What they do love talking about is how great WebOS is at the one thing others aren’t, multi-tasking and replicating the desktop environment. If you look at all the ways that the Pre benefited from its predecessors, you might find their failings informed more of Palm’s decisions than their successes. But of course, learning from your enemies’ mistakes is not exactly a new and innovative strategy. The absurdity lies in Apple’s threats of pursuing anybody that “rips off our IP” when the multit-touch tech in question comprises so little of Palm’s fantastic UI lead over Apple. Google might as well and try to sue Palm over its Card system of multi-tasking given Android’s “unique” application drawer. In the end, the lawyers are fighting over peanuts of intellectual property when the war is being won by well executed systems that make phones act how we want them to.

The question now, of course, is what did the Pre mess up? what did the iPhone not do quite right? What Fail Giants can we clamber on top of and create something new? Very open ended questions, so there’s no excuse for not having a comment or two.