By Harry McCracken | Friday, June 26, 2009 at 12:09 pm
PreThinking has noticed that Sprint is running ads for the Palm Pre directed at the earliest of iPhone adopters–the folks who bought first-generation iPhones two years ago, and whose contracts are therefore starting to end. (Or will be in a few days–next Monday is the second anniversary of the iPhone’s introduction.) The ads correctly point out the Pre’s multitasking and Sprint’s all-inclusive $99 service plan as reasons to consider a Pre. They also mention Sprint’s 4G network, which is a tad odd given that the Pre doesn’t support it.
The ads inevitably bring to mind Palm investor Roger McNamee’s amazing prediction that “not one” original iPhone user would still be using an iPhone within a month of the AT&T contract coming to an end. Sprint will presumably be quite happy if even a smallish percentage of first-gen iPhone owners switch. But would doing so be a rational move?
Sure, for some folks. I’d at least consider the possibility myself if I had an old iPhone and my obligation to AT&T was nearing its end.
Here are the major arguments for the Pre:
The form factor. It’s all a matter of taste, but if you find the iPhone too big (and some folks do) the Pre’s smaller, more phonelike dimensions may please.
The keyboard. Also a matter of personal preference. But if you’ve been using an iPhone for two years and still don’t like its onscreen keyboard, it’s time to move to a tiny-plastic-keys one like the Pre’s.
Multitasking. Once you’ve tuned in Pandora on the Pre and then hopped into another application, it’s hard to go back to the iPhone’s singletasking world.
The social network integration. In its current form I don’t think it’s a huge deal, but the Pre does things like sync with your Facebook friends and meld IM with SMS. The iPhone doesn’t.
Service costs. Sprint does indeed charge a hundred bucks for unlimited voice, data, text messages, and GPS navigation; AT&T wants $160.
The Sprint network. Maybe. I haven’t spent enough time on it to form a real-world opinion, but most of the AT&T customers I know are at least somewhat disgruntled with the company’s data service, and most of the Sprint ones are more upbeat.
And here are the major arguments for buying an iPhone 3GS:
The third-party apps. Of which there are 50,000 versus the pittance that has arrived for the Pre to date.
The larger screen. It makes reading text on the iPhone meaningfully easier than on the Pre.
The entertainment features. Apple’s on-phone iTunes Store and iPod media player add up to a much richer experience than the Pre delivers.
Video recording. The 3GS has pretty good video capture; the Pre doesn’t do video at all yet.
Memory. The top-of-the-line 3GS has four times as much storage as the Pre; the base 3GS costs the same as the Pre but has twice as much.
GSM. You can use an iPhone in most of the world (as long as you’re willing to pay through the nose for AT&T roaming charges); the Pre is U.S-only.
The health of the iPhone platform. You know that it’s going to be aroumd for a long time, and that the best is probably yet to come. I’m impressed with the Pre and want to see Palm flourish, but as a brand-new platform from a company that’s faced more than its share of challenges, the Pre and WebOS are a gamble in a way that the iPhone isn’t.
As usual with any gadget as personal as a phone, it’s hard to boil down pros and cons to a checklist. The iPhone and Pre have distinctly different personalities, and preferring either one over the other is equally permissible. So here’s another way to look at it: Happy first-generation iPhone owners who want a new phone should probably buy a 3GS. And unhappy ones should look at the Pre, at least. (As well as other contenders such as T-Mobile’s upcoming myTouch 3G and the BlackBerry Bold; the latter is probably the best smartphone AT&T sells that isn’t an iPhone.)
Of course, my thinking here is merely speculative, since I never owned a first-gen iPhone and therefore don’t have to make this decision. If you are an original iPhone owner, would you consider buying a Pre?