Thursday, January 8, 2009

Overdue Pre announcement

Yet another post during the week of Macworld Expo and CES.

Palm unveiled a new phone with a new OS at CES. Because I have to get back to my day job, let me react quickly to both the CNET and NYT stories.

The OS has the (IMHO terrible) generic name of “Web OS”; the phone (or phone family) is called Pre. Apparently, as with the initial iPhone, there are no native apps, just webapps (let’s see how long that lasts).

Of course, it is not the first (nor last) wannabe “iPhone killer” (which apparently counts any touchscreen phone). It has what any decent smartphone today has: a large (3.1") LCD screen, GPS, and (unlike Verizon phones) Wi-Fi. Like the Nokia N97 and the T-Mobile/Google/HTC G1, it has a slide-out keyboard.

The good news and the bad news is that the phone will start on Sprint. It’s good news because Sprint doesn’t have a decent smartphone — just some generic LG and Samsung phones (that many would not consider real smartphones) and of course the aging Palm Centro and Treo models.

The bad news is that Sprint is in serious trouble and the only one of the Big 4 US cellular operators that is losing market share.

The phone is still vaporware, promised at an unspecified date (“first half”) and unspecified price. It will come someday to other carriers: I’m guessing that 3-6 months after Sprint, the next carrier will be Verizon (relatively lame smartphones, same CDMA technology).

My snap reaction is that this would have been a great phone to release last summer. New architectures always take longer than expected, but perhaps they could have done it if they’d been more focused in 2006-2007 and not wasted so many resources on the Foleo.

Instead, it will arrive two years after the iPhone launch, at a time when when consumers already have at least three other credible smartphone alternatives (Nokia S60, various BlackBerries, and the gPhone), Palm’s handheld market share is at the lowest point of its 16 year existence, and their very survival has been in doubt for years.

For sentimental reasons, I hope Palm can make a go of it. I’ve owned Palm PDAs since 1996 and relied on a Palm PDA phone (Kyocera QCP-6035, Treo 650 and two copies of the Samsung SPH-i500) for the past 7 years. Despite this, I can’t see why I’d prefer the Pre for my own use, particularly given that its viability is questionable when compared to Apple, Google, Nokia or RIM.

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