- 15 Oct 09, 08:33 GMT
It's another big week for smartphone launches in the UK.
Blackberry is bringing out a new version of the Storm, the touchscreen phone whose first version received less than stellar reviews, but still sold reasonably well. But far more hangs on another launch - that of the Palm Pre.
This week I met Jon Rubinstein, Palm's CEO and Matthew Key, head of O2 across Europe, which has the exclusive contract for the Pre.
For both of them this is an important partnership. I put it to Matthew Key that the Pre was a consolation prize after O2 lost its exclusive contract with Apple to sell the iPhone in the UK.
He of course denied that - but went on to outline a relationship with Palm that seemed remarkably similar to the one O2 had originally had with Apple.
It had been love at first sight when he had played with the Pre and now the network was going to lavish the kind of care and attention on this phone that no other product - apart from the iPhone - had received, with a big marketing push and a starring role in its stores in the run-up to Christmas.
But, I asked Mr Key, what about the distinctly dodgy performance of the O2 network since iPhone users started bombarding it with data - won't that be an issue for his new partner? "We recognise we've had some growing pains," he told me, in what I thought was a significant admission.
He said that 02's data traffic had been doubling every three months recently, much of that due to the iPhone, but O2 had been learning about the way smartphones interacted with its network, and was confident of big improvements.
Jon Rubinstein will certainly hope so. He's the man who played a big role in the creation of the iPod which helped revive Apple after its years in the wilderness.
Now he's trying to pull off an even more remarkable turnaround at Palm, and the Pre is crucial to that mission.
It is the first device running Palm's new Web OS operating system, and it's pretty impressive - an attractive shape, easy to use, with a tiny keyboard adding extra functionality to the touchscreen.
And, unlike the iPhone, the Pre allows you to have several applications running at the same time.
But surely, however good the phone may be, it's simply too late. The iPhone has been around for a couple of years - and with Blackberries, Androids, Nokia Symbian devices and Windows phones, there is now a bewildering amount of choice for anyone wishing to do much more with their mobile than just call and text.
Jon Rubinstein countered this argument with a very good point. Early adopters may think smartphones are old hat, but the revolution is only just getting under way. He said:
"We're really at the beginning of this transition from feature phones to smartphones".
Matthew Key chimed in, confirming that just one in 30 mobile users have tried a smartphone so far, so there's plenty of room for growth.
Jon Rubinstein reckons there's room in this market for three to five successful companies - and he believes that it's software, not hardware, which will be the key, giving Palm, with its smart new operating system, an edge.
I'm sure it's true that we're not even at half-time in the smartphone game, which will prove hugely lucrative to the winners.
But Palm, with a brand which is now pretty unfamiliar to the kind of phone users now looking to move into this market, will have its work cut out to make its voice heard above the hubbub.
O2 will be able to move on to another shiny new partner if the Pre fails to deliver - but for Palm, any sign that crowds are failing to storm the shops in search of a small pebble-shaped device could spell doom.
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