The Most Important Tech Product Of The Year - So Far


Sorry Apple, but the iPad isn't out yet, so it's not yet ready to be called the most important product of 2010.

Sorry e-book makers. They're all good, but a little too one-dimensional to be a cut above the others.

We've seen lots of really terrific products, and lots of really great technology. When Canonical launches its next version of Ubuntu, for example, it will be at or nearly at "instant on" levels of performance. That will be absolutely huge. Intel's CPU roadmap promises to deliver important products in the coming weeks and quarters.

But five weeks into this year, one product stands out above the others that should be given consideration as the most important product of the year so far - - the Palm Pre Plus smartphone.

Important technology and important products have the ability to change the way we do things. They can change the way we plan our day and change the way we approach and solve problems. Without going overboard, it's possible to say that the Palm Pre Plus is the most important tech product we've seen in the early part of the year.

There are three main reasons why Palm has scored big with the Palm Pre Plus:

Accessibility

For $149 (with a two-year Verizon contract) and monthly pricing that can get you decent coverage for between $40 and $89, Palm is giving the market much-needed accessibility that rivals like the iPhone, Blackberry and Droid don't because of either high cost of acquisition, technical limitations or the limits of the AT&T Wireless network. Verizon's superior network, combined with the hotspot functionality and engineering approach of Palm Pre Plus make it a nice fit;

Connectivity

Palm makes it dead simple to turn the Palm Pre Plus into a WiFi hot spot: You tap a button on the Pre Plus' touch screen. Mobile WiFi via 3G isn't new (Verizon rolled out the MiFi last year, for example.) And it's not going to blow anybody's doors off with its bandwidth. Using a ThinkPad, we connected to a standard Linksys WiFi router and drew 4.49 Mbps of download bandwidth, but only about one-tenth that speed using Verizon's 3G network via the Palm Pre Plus WiFi hotspot. But you know what? That's OK. It's comparable to other 3G connectivity speeds and it's great that the laptop didn't need to be tethered to the phone;

Differentiation

Palm's engineers aren't overdoing it in trying to be like the iPhone. They provide enough differentiation -- from the OS to the rounded edges and fit and finish to the slider keyboard -- to make it a much different experience from the iPhone. And, speaking of differentiation, we noticed that the Palm Pre Plus provides noticeably more real-world battery life than iPhone 3GS when using a variety of talk time, mobile Internet (3G and WiFi) and screen brightness tests. (In a calling test, for example, with no other functionality disabled in the phone, five hours of straight call time barely budged the battery meter.)

There are a number of improvements in the Pre Plus from the Pre, including battery life and over-the-air software updates, among other things.

The technology industry has made it through the era of the desktop and mobile PC, the mobile PC and the tethered smart phone, the notebook and the netbook. Palm is taking us an important half-step beyond that: A smart phone that will support the WiFi needs of anything else -- including, you can imagine, the forthcoming iPad from Apple. If you want the iPhone/iPad experience, but don't want to pay AT&T Wireless, just grab a Palm Pre Plus and use that with your iPad. Or MacBook Air. Or anything else.

Let's hope Palm keeps working on everything that makes the Pre Plus a great device. There's still a lot of time left in 2010.