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Reasons Why You Should Think Twice About The Palm Pre

r_pad
31 Comments

Posted January 12, 2009 - By r_pad

Tech writers and gadget enthusiasts alike were thrilled with last week's announcement of the Palm Pre at CES 2009. Many of you have listed it as the biggest news coming out of the show in our Sony Walkman giveaway. While it's easy to see why so many journalists are excited about the product, it's not unusual for writers to become enamored with the potential of a device without thinking about its real-world applications. GigaOm's Om Malik, one of my favorite tech writers, is trying to keep it real. Malik recently wrote, "I remain highly skeptical of Palm's chance to succeed with this new effort. I may be the only one who isn’t buying it." He also pointed out a few reasons why people shouldn't be too excited about the Palm Pre. Let's take a look at his wizened comments and break them down.

"Many seem to have skimmed over the fact that the Pre has features that are typical of any smartphone sold over the holidays. Sure, it looks better than some Microsoft Mobile devices, HTC’s Tilt or some of the Samsung devices, but it its feature set is no different than, say, a Nokia E71. I don’t think Pre has done anything to move the needle forward, though its backers -- including the affable Roger McNamee -- are waxing eloquent about its potential. In a market where the iPhone sets the pace, Palm is woefully behind the curve."

Om has a point here, but I also think he's missing one, too. I don't think you can look at the Pre's features without considering its Web OS operating system. Sure the Pre is loaded with all the features that a high-end phone that's being released before the end of June 2009 should have, but Web OS really does stand out. I love the way it wirelessly syncs your information. Similar to Google Android's ability to pull your information from your Gmail and Google Calendar accounts, Web OS pulls your information from various email, calendar, and social networking apps. Furthermore, changes made in those apps on your computer will be reflected when they're pulled up on the Pre. It's a powerful feature to not have to physically connect the Pre to a PC in order to synchronize with multiple apps.

While the iPhones and E71s of the world already have many of the features the Pre has, only the T-Mobile G1 has an OS that was built from the ground up with Internet integration in mind. A huge part of what the Pre has to offer is the way the Internet permeates so many of Web OS' functions. Dare I say that it's the Pre's biggest feature?!? Okay, I dare.

"The Pre, which will be available on the Sprint network, won’t be released until sometime in the first half of 2009 or, as CEO Ed Colligan told the reporters in Vegas, 'as soon as possible.' Technically, June 30 is in the first half of 2009. By announcing its product too early, Palm has turned up the hype cycle around its new product offering, and that means fewer sales for its existing products. Palm and its carrier partners were already having a tough time pushingTreos out the door, and now those carrier partners are going to be none too happy. With a new Palm device on the horizon, carriers have less of an incentive to push the company’s current devices, and that means a further decline in shipments."

I'm not sure Palm had much of a choice. CES gave it a large stage with the attention of thousands of media outlets. What's the alternative here? Mobile World Congress, a large mobile technology expo in Barcelona, take place in February, so there's not that much of a difference in timing. CTIA, a large wireless convention in North America, takes place in early April. It's a smaller show, and more importantly, probably be too late too make a splash the way Palm wanted to. There are too many tech blogs that scour the FCC's web site for product releases. Chances are, the Pre would have been going through government channels by that point and someone would have picked up on it.

"For argument’s sake, lets assume the Pre does come out on time and starts selling like hotcakes. It still doesn’t necessarily mean success. About 40 Android-powered devices are slotted to make their way to the market this year, and I am not sure if guys at Apple are resting on their laurels. An OS upgrade, a new phone form factor is among things we should expect from Apple in 2009. What that means is that Palm would be playing catch up in the marketplace with a clear leader and dozens of desperate competitors. Palm will feel the financial squeeze, especially in 2009 when the economy remains in doldrums."

I completely agree with this point. Obviously, Apple enjoys a huge head start with customers and developers. Google Android is picking up steam and there are tons of great Android products slated for release soon. Although the Pre may be the current darling among tech writers, it doesn't instantly transform Palm (and Sprint) into a more successful company. While Palm's recent stock jump was hardly surprising, it's shortsighted. The company hasn't announced pricing, the number of units that will available at launch, etc. There's also some doubt that the Pre will be priced competitively.

"Now, lets talk about the Palm WebOS, its new operating system. It sounds so promising that I actually want to try it out – though, after being forewarned by my readers, becoming a Sprint customer is out of the question."

Let me preface what I'm about to say with that fact that the quality of any mobile network depends on where you live. Some networks simply have better coverage in various areas than they do in others. Now, it's really easy to pick on the beleaguered Sprint, but its CDMA network is excellent in most places. The company even won Gizmodo's coat-to-coast battle in 3G download speeds. Obviously, the Pre will rely heavily on the 3G network. Out of all my mobile accounts, Sprint is the oldest (over 11 years, I think) due to the network's performance in the different cities I've lived in. In San Francisco -- where Malik lives -- the performance for data and voice has been excellent. In this instance, I think he's taking an unnecessary shot at Sprint, fueled by some angry readers.

"The question now is, will Palm be able to get a lot of developers to come and develop for the platform? Yes, we know they have a loyal community and millions of developers, but the momentum is with Apple and Google."

This is a pretty big kicker right here. Apple offers an easy and centralized way to get new applications for the iPhone. The iPhone and iPod Touch combine for an impressive installed base. Developers are going to flock to it, although some are unhappy about Apple's heavy-handed app management. Developers that fall into that category -- and hundreds of others -- are gravitating towards the open-sourced love Android has to offer. The momentum that Malik refers to can't be discounted. It's also worth noting that Engadget Mobile reported that gaming isn't a priority for the Pre's "App Catalog", which somewhat limits its appeal as a consumer device.

So there you have it! While it's fun to get caught up in all the Palm Pre hysteria, it should also be tempered with some logic and perspective. I'm grateful that writers like Om Malik took some time to take a step back and think about the Palm Pre in more practical terms. I was set to go with a Google Android phone at some point this year, but Palm definitely has my attention with the Pre. I'll totally admit that I felt like abandoning my Android dreams when the Pre was first announced. Now that the dust has settled and I've had some time to think about it -- especially considering comments like Om's -- I'm in wait-and-see mode.

How about you guys and gals? Do any of the factors above make you think more or less of the Palm Pre? Think you'll pick one up this year? Or will you go the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, or other routes?

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Tags: CES, iPhone, Tech
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