Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

« Previous Post | Technology Home | Next Post »

Palm Pre smartphone to go on sale for $200 on June 6

May 19, 2009 |  8:40 am

Palmpre
The Palm Pre has a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard. Credit: whatleydude via Flickr

It's hee-eere. Well, almost. Sprint and Palm said this morning that the Palm Pre would be available in Sprint stores, Best Buy, RadioShack, some Wal-Mart stores and online June 6. It will cost $199.99 after a mail-in rebate. The subsidized price requires a two-year contract and a data plan that starts at $69.99 a month.

The Pre has both a touchscreen and a keyboard, which Palm hopes will be an advantage over other phones that have one or the other. It is compatible with Touchstone, a $69.99 wireless charger that allows you to charge the device by just placing it on the charger, rather than plugging it in.

The highly anticipated iPhone competitor is Palm's attempt to regain market share after stumbling and losing its leading position, first with the Palm Pilot and then with the Palm Treo. The Treo, introduced in 2002, was a cutting-edge device at the time, but Palm spun off its operating system to another company and wasn't able to update the device quickly enough to keep it competitive, according to analyst Tavis McCourt at Morgan Keegan.

In the first quarter of 2006, Palm’s operating system had a 40% share of all smartphone devices in the U.S., compared with BlackBerry’s 28%, according to Nielsen. By the first quarter of 2009, Palm’s share had fallen to 10%, while BlackBerry's grew to 36% and Apple’s grew from zilch to 21%, thanks to the iPhone.

The Pre runs on WebOS, Palm's new operating system that ...

... the company says will change the way we live and work.

"Pre consolidates your important information – professional, social and personal – into one revolutionary device using an operating system that redefines the experience of living and working wirelessly," Sprint said in the release this morning.

WebOS allows you to run different applications at the same time, which gives it an advantage over the iPhone. It also allows you to reply to e-mails and social networking profiles through one interface.

Still, for all the hoopla, there's a chance it might not take with consumers, which would mean trouble for both Palm and Sprint, the wireless carrier that has consistently lost customers every quarter.

“This is an opportunity for Palm to invigorate itself and become a serious contender,” said Roger Entner, a telecommunications analyst with Nielsen. If it doesn’t, he said, “that could mean the end of the road for Palm.”

Some analysts were hoping for a lower price point to make the device more attractive to consumers than the iPhone. And with AT&T rumored to announce a lower-priced data plan for the iPhone soon, Sprint's $69.99 data plan could end up being too high.

Palm also will have to attract developers to make the Pre as application-heavy as the iPhone, which touts its panoply of apps in its commercials. WebOS is a simple interface, said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research, which means people who can develop for websites can easily develop for the Pre. But the question remains if they will.

And that, said Los Angeles developer Anthony Phills, will largely depend on how many people buy the Pre. He's made apps for the iPhone and BlackBerry, and has applied to develop an Amber Alert app for the Pre. He looks at how popular each device is before deciding to develop for it, he said.

And despite the uncertainty about the Pre, he thinks the Palm gadget will do well enough to make an application for it worthwhile.

"Palm has so many loyal customers from before," he said.

-- Alana Semuels