There is an old computer industry adage that "software sells hardware." On June 6, the Palm Pre may again prove the truth in those words. Applications, or the lack of them, are likely to plan an important role in the Pre's relative success, or failure.
Apple, meanwhile, is expected to introduce new iPhones running its 3.0 operating system, perhaps only two days after the Pre's launch. Developers are already building applications for the new iPhone OS, diverting energy that Palm might otherwise harness.
Palm, with its rocky history, has a bad reputation in some circles. That could also slow developer support for the Pre, as those with limited resources bet on other companies' offerings.
If you were a developer, which smartphone would you create applications for? Apple's iPhone is a given as it offers a powerful platform and comes with an easy way for apps to be sold to customers. All other smartphones pale in comparison to Apple's work.
As for the others:
It's widely presumed that devices based on the Google Android operating system will become more common and that Google will figure out how to sell them online.
RIM doesn't have as advanced an applications platform among its smartphones, but can be expected to catch-up. RIM has sold plenty of BlackBerrys and sheer volume makes them interesting to developers.
Microsoft is the ugly duckling of the smartphone business. Its Windows Mobile has limited developer support and has never really caught on in the marketplace, despite years of attempts. My thought is that cellular carriers are skeptical enough of Microsoft that wide adoption of the company's mobile OS isn't likely.
It will be months before it will be possible to assess developer support for the Pre. While the June 6 launch of the Palm Pre will give the device needed momentum, it could be short-lived if Apple announces two days later at its developer conference.
The excitement surrounding iPhone 3.0 applications is likely to overshadow anything else that happens in smartphone development this summer. The Palm Pre, though exciting, is starting at a considerable disadvantage that will be difficult to overcome.
If software really does sell hardware, the momentum will be with Apple and not with Palm.