Palm's woes are all about image

Let's look at how Palm -- and its rivals -- present themselves to the world, for insight into Palm's image problem.

Palm's Pre smartphone

Palm's Pre smartphone

Palm reported on Thursday that its sales are not going as well as expected due to "slower-than-expected consumer adoption of the company's products." The blood is reportedly in the water, and many analysts, pundits and reporters are saying Palm may not be long for this world.

The strange thing about Palm's predicament is that it has a really good product in the Palm Pre. I have several friends who own a Pre, and when I ask them what they think of their phone, they do what any tech-loving geek does. They grab their phone with both hands, smile, look up at the sky and proclaim their undying love for the Pre and talk about how they couldn't live without it.

So what's the problem? In my view, Palm and its carrier partners have failed to give you and me a compelling reason to use their products. The other big players in the cell phone market, including a resurgent Microsoft, have already figured this out. It's not just about having a cool device, but about building a narrative around that cool product. Everybody is making awesome phones these days, so what makes Palm devices special compared to iPhones, Androids, and Windows Phone 7s?

Palm Pixi

Take a look at this commercial from Sprint celebrating the wonders of the Palm Pixi. It shows all the great things the Pixi has, including a camera, SMS, video, phone, Web browser, a customizable case, and maps. Sounds like a great phone; the only problem is it doesn't show me exactly how good any of these phone features are. It's essentially just a spec list with pretty pictures.

iPhone

Do you remember the first time you saw this iPhone commercial about the Shazam app? You may not be too impressed by it now, but the first time I saw this, it just blew my mind. That's because it showed the iPhone doing something awesome, surprising, and -- dare I say it -- magical.

But that's what Apple does with almost all of its commercials, product demos, and retail stores: it shows you in very specific terms how awesome its product is. And Apple has hit us with that message again . . .

... and again . . .

. . . and again.

GaGa for Google

Why do people love Google? Android commercials, to be blunt, are lame, Google has been unsuccessful at retail service so far, and the company's live product launches are messy and unpolished.

But Android phones do have a narrative: They are open and customizable, and offer the "Google Experience" by integrating popular services like Google Voice, Calendar, Gmail, Buzz, and more. Google is flooding the market with phones because its user interface is attractive to phone manufacturers, developers, critics, and users.

Google ha a device for everyone: The luxury phone (Nexus One), the breakthrough device (Droid) and the social networking device (Motorola Cliq). Just like Google, Android is everywhere and the platform is only growing in popularity.

Windows Phone 7 Series

Microsoft impressed a lot of people earlier this month with the introduction of the Windows Phone 7 Series. It's a radical rethinking of the Windows Mobile experience, and it promises to be a huge hit when new devices arrive on store shelves later this year.

Windows Phone 7 tightly integrates your contacts and social networking into one area; it has a built-in Zune player, access to Zune Marketplace, and Xbox LIVE wrapped up in a slick-looking interface. It's a huge leap forward for Microsoft, and I have no doubt Windows Phone 7 will entice a lot of people to give Microsoft another try.

In my opinion, this is what Palm is missing: its products don't tell us a story and don't give us a reason to love them.

With the iPhone there's an app for anything you can think of. Android phones are a tinkerer's dream with a wide open app catalog, and the ability to mold the operating system and interface to meet your own needs. Windows Phones 7 will have a fabulous-looking contacts manager, social networking, productivity apps and Xbox LIVE. The Palm Pre, on the other hand, is . . . an attractive smartphone . . . yay?

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul) or on Google Buzz.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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