For the last two years, Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone has had an exclusive feature no other phone maker has replicated: A multi-touch screen, with which you could zoom around with natural gestures like “pinching” maps and pictures to zoom in and out. No longer: Palm’s new Pre smartphone — coming later this year — also has multi-touch and gesture-based functions.
Will Apple boss Steve Jobs lose any sleep over the Pre tonight? No. The iPhone is still the better phone. And Palm has a lot of execution left. Showing off a demo at CES is one thing. Selling millions of gadgets is another.
But slowly, the iPhone’s technical lead will erode as competitors like Palm and Google (GOOG) catch up (or outdo Apple) with app stores, software that runs in the background, multi-touch, good Web browsers, etc.
So what should Apple do? Keep pushing hard on the iPhone’s software development, which we’re sure they’re doing. Specifically, we’d like to see that push notification system they promised last summer, or something that will let us do things like receiving AIM and Twitter messages while we’re reading our e-mail. (And get rid of our ripoff, $15/month text messaging plan.) And — though it’s become a cliché to include it in lists like this — copy and paste. Seriously.
Meanwhile, will Apple sue Palm? When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone (and multi-touch) two years ago, he said something along the lines of, “And boy have we patented it!”
We don’t know the extent of Apple’s patents or if Palm’s multi-touch screen infringes on any of those. But if they do, we expect Apple will jump on them. They’re already pissed off that former execs like Jon Rubinstein — now leading Palm’s platform — are working against them. Losing any market share to Palm could send Jobs into rage.