Palm Pre Fizzles for Sprint

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So who still thinks Sprint's launch of the Palm Pre was a big success? No, the Pre isn't dead, but it hasn't generated the subscriber boost Sprint had hoped for and has quickly lost the imagination of the handset-buying public.

I've taken a lot of heat from the obsessed for describing the Pre's June 6 launch as "failed" in a previous post. Now come reports that suggest I was spot-on. Consider what Bloomberg has to say about Sprint and Palm shares falling as people figure out the Pre hasn't drawn customers to Sprint from other carriers.

Need more evidence? Take a look at these pics our pals at Engadget gathered of people barely lining up (or evening showing up) for the Pre on its June 6 launch.

To be fair, our editors on the street are reporting that the iPhone lines aren't what they used to be, either, probably in part because of people who've been there/done that and decided to preorder this time and let UPS make the delivery. Or maybe those who reserved a phone for pickup are just sleeping in. But even in rainy Boston, the meager iPhone line looks bigger than the largest crowds drawn at the Pre's launch.

Guestimates of first weekend iPhone 3G S sales--I've seen a half-million of them--are five to ten times the estimates of Palm Pre sales that I've seen. I wouldn't be too surprised if the price cut on the existing iPhone 3G hasn't already moved 30,000 units.

If the Pre can't convince Verizon and AT&T customers to change carriers, what good is it--at least in a commercial sense?

There is also the question, raised by InfoWorld, as to when a real webOS dev kit will come out, potentially allowing more developers to build Pre apps. The Pre's only real hope lies in developing the kind of applications catalog that iPhone enjoys. That won’t happen until the Palm Pre SDK comes out, and every day wasted hurts the Pre's long-term prospects.

I am not now, nor have I ever, said the Pre is a bad device, so hold off on the angry comments saying I don't love your latest darling. But, what I have said and what is being borne out--at least for now--is that the Pre isn't compelling enough to radically change the marketplace in Sprint and Palm's favor.

It's always sad when something you think is a groundbreaking technology fails to set the world on fire. I know, I've been there too many times to count.

What's (not) happening for the Pre isn't a sin, perhaps, unless you are an investor. But, it does point out how difficult it is for a newcomer to force its way into the marketplace. The question for later this year will be whether multiple Android launches will generate more sales than the Pre has managed.

I'd earlier predicted that Apple might smite Palm by announcing the new iPhone earlier than expected. I'd thought tying it to Steve Jobs (now) expected return would be a nice touch. That would have allowed the Pre to dominate the headlines for a little longer.

But, the smiting occurred and has gotten worse, with Apple threatening to lock the Palm Pre out from using iTunes for music updates. Maybe that is lamentable, if you're a Pre customer, but it is also totally expected. No one has ever accused Apple of being Mr. Nice Guy.

I do not own a Pre, but I'm predisposed to like the device itself. I also like the investors who helped revive Palm's fortunes. I'd love to write nicer things about them, but it doesn't help Palm, Sprint, would be developers, or potential Pre customers to sugarcoat the truth--which is that the Palm Pre seems to be going nowhere at a pretty good clip.

David Coursey is watching for the UPS guy--and has a signature waiver form on the door just in case he doesn't hear the bell. He tweets as techinciter and can be e-mailed using the form at

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