How Palm Used Apple Magic to Own CES


I was pretty harsh on Microsoft and Apple last week with regard to their various pitches. On Apple's side, it really didn't have that much to present and, given the content, I doubt anyone else would have done better. But then it was Apple, and Apple isn't expected to be just anyone else. Several folks have spoken to me about the Microsoft CES keynote, saying that it was Microsoft, after all, so I should have lowered my expectations. Maybe so, but in these hard times it is critical that companies step up and create excitement. Otherwise, these hard times are likely to be with us a lot longer.


Fortunately, Palm, in sharp contrast to much of what was at CES, got up on stage and went for the gold. It set a standard that every other company at CES should try to emulate. It brought to market the Palm Pre, a product that did what the iPhone did two years ago and stole the show. And Palm did this largely by emulating Apple. The presentation wasn't as good as Steve Jobs', but the product was much better, so it all balanced out. Also, awhile back I wrote on how Jobs' health was connected to Apple's, and one of the folks posting a comment asked who could replace Jobs. Right now, the launch of the Palm Pre points to the fact that just one man, Jon Rubenstein, the father of the iPod and Palm Pre, has the skill set to replace Jobs.


How Apple Helped Palm Owned CES


A large chunk of the key players at Palm are people who appear to have been badly treated and forced out of Apple. These folks learned how Apple creates and markets products. And now they have, as a personal agenda, a desire to showcase that they were collectively important to Apple's turnaround and didn't get any real credit for it. The reason this last is important is that one of the key aspects of Apple is Steve Jobs' capability to use fear to drive people to extraordinary levels of accomplishment. Palm doesn't have a culture of fear, and I've observed that the people who leave Apple have an aversion to fear as a motivational tool. This desire to show Apple, I think, filled the gap and allowed them to bring out and present an amazing device.


What typically sets Apple apart is that Steve Jobs, from the moment a product is conceptualized, thinks about how it will be presented to the market. This helps Apple significantly prioritize features and functions and assures that the company will never bring out anything like the first-generation Zune. The Palm Pre has this feel. Palm sat back and clearly thought through what this phone would need to credibly go in front of an audience and make the iPhone look bad.


The removable battery, the curved slide-out keyboard that cups your face, the creation of a gesture space so you don't obscure the screen when working with it, the way it handles the open windows, and the extreme simplicity and ease of use the product demonstrates are the evidence. In addition, Palm embraced ActiveSync rather than trying to make it more complex (MobileMe), and created an inductive dock, which gave that "one more thing" moment at the end of the pitch and surpassed the magnetic connector for the MacBooks.


That is the true power of Steve Jobs; it isn't just that he presents things well, it's that he drives products that are easy to present. The combination, when it works, results in a synergy that is just magic.


Up until Palm's presentation, I wondered if there was anyone in the planet that could learn and apply Steve Jobs' teachings. That question is now answered, and if one can learn to do this, so can others.


Wrapping Up: Best Phone I've Ever Seen


What makes the Palm Pre so good is a combination of hardware, software and presentations skills. Most firms forget that this last is often more important than any other part, or that when Steve Jobs returned to Apple the products weren't selling. It was his presentation skills that kept the company alive until they could create products he could actually use to expand his market. Palm has learned all three aspects of a hit product. This is the first time I've seen a tech company other than Apple do this. My hope is that others will learn from this and by so doing help turn the tech market around.