Sun Jan 10 2010

On the Palm Pre, the iPhone, and an open letter to Jon Rubinstein

Ah, CES. Every year, a source for technology news, gear lust, and the occasional blooper. This year it clearly delivered on the latter when Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein said in an interview with Kara Swisher of All Things Digital that he had never used an iPhone. Think about that one for a minute. The Palm CEO, who runs a company whose business is to produce a product that shares a market segment with the iPhone, said he had never used one. This post briefly comments on this.

I’m not particularly concerned with the possibility of John Rubinstein lying on stage. What concerns me is the fact that he might be telling the truth, and what that tells the Palm consumer (or potential Palm Pre buyer). Unless you’re creating a completely new market you are bound to do at least some research - which obviously includes looking at the competition. When you’re trying to solve the same problems, you will surely find yourself in a much better position if you do not ignore your competitors. Not only does examining the competition let you avoid mistakes, it also informs you of where you can do better than them.

Clearly nobody wants Palm to blindly follow Apple’s footsteps - there are other companies that excel at that. But I do suspect that there’s a lot of people interested in seeing a real competitor to the iPhone coming from Palm. I’m pretty sure that a true competing product will not come from a company whose CEO doesn’t have a clear vision of how (and what) the rest of the market is doing.##To Jon Rubinstein:

Mr Rubinstein: I’d love to give you an iPhone. Not for you to use - I still want you to use the Pre on a daily basis so you know where it needs improvement. But you do need to see the iPhone. You need to know where it succeeds, fails, and how it got to where it is today. You need to experience it in order to have it inform your own product decisions. It is from you and your team that a vision for the next Pre will emerge. But you should not assume that vision will become clear to you while wearing blindfolds.

I’m sure your future customers will appreciate knowing that you stand behind your products even after looking at others. That takes guts. Telling your buyers “Here’s what others did - we like it, but we believe we did better”. I’ll be definitely buying a Pre when that happens, because I know an informed product is better than one created in a vaccuum.