AT&T May Sell Palm Pre in 2010

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AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson said yesterday that he sees the carrier selling the upcoming Palm Pre once the exclusive deal with Sprint Nextel Inc. is up.

That means that AT&T could be selling the Pre, with its new WebOS operating system, over a GSM-capable wireless network as early as Jan. 1, 2010. Sprint has not said how long the exclusive deal will last, but reports in February claimed the exclusivity runs out at the end of the year.

An AT&T spokesman today confirmed that Stephenson said the carrier "might be interested" in the Palm Pre during a talk at the D: All Things Digital technology conference in Carlsbad, Calif. He declined further comment.

"If AT&T is longing for the Palm Pre, and it's only with Sprint about six months, then right after Christmas, we can get it from AT&T. It's not that far off," said Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research.

Sprint is planning to sell the Pre starting June 6 for US$200 after a $100 rebate and a two-year service plan. Sprint has consistently refused to disclose the length of its exclusive deal with Palm for the Pre. The Pre will operate the device over Sprint's UMTS network.

Analysts generally agree it makes sense for AT&T to want the Palm Pre, just as any carrier would want the latest hot device. Most of the major carriers sell several models of smartphones and dozens of mobile phones overall.

"It doesn't surprise me that every carrier wants as many iconic phones as possible, like the iPhone or the Pre," Burden said in an interview today. "There are plenty of 'me-too' phones that are very capable on the market, but what is unique about some is the brand. The Pre and iPhone have two loyal followings and are American brands, so it makes sense for AT&T to be interested."

By comparison, Burden added, "it's not like AT&T is waiting for the next of the HTC Windows Mobile phones, which are great, but difficult to make so they stand out against other Windows phones."

That the Pre and the iPhone are American-made brand from well-known U.S. companies, namely, Palm Inc. and Apple Inc., also gives them a slightly higher value to U.S.-based wireless carriers.

And it's not so much the hardware as the operating system. "If Apple licensed the OSX to another maker, and Palm did the same with the WebOS, it might not be as attractive," Burden added. "But because the manufacturers keep licenses to themselves and are the only ones to make the device, that itself becomes the draw and the lure for carriers," Burden added.

Burden's analysis is what makes the reported voraciousness of Verizon Wireless to get the iPhone after its exclusive deal with AT&T runs out seem highly likely as well.

This story, "AT&T May Sell Palm Pre in 2010" was originally published by Computerworld.

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