Smart Phones, Sprint Stores and Salesmanship (or Sleaze)

Last weekend, my significant other decided it was finally time to take the plunge and buy a smart phone. She had really wanted a new device for the last six months, but buying electronic equipment puts her in a weird state somewhere between dread and ennui. But the dying battery

Last weekend, my significant other decided it was finally time to take the plunge and buy a smart phone. She had really wanted a new device for the last six months, but buying electronic equipment puts her in a weird state somewhere between dread and ennui. But the dying battery in her current PDA and the remarkable crash rate of her cell phone -- not to mention all the used real estate in her purse -- finally drove her over the edge.

During her months of dithering, I had several times researched devices and carriers that I thought would work for her. She was already a Sprint customer and was eligible for the upgrade discount, and Sprint has comparatively cheap data plans -- so staying with Sprint made sense. As for the device itself, I figured a Palm OS-powered Treo was the best choice, since she had been using a Tungsten for the last few years and would therefore not have to learn her way around a new interface.

However, her IT person at her workplace turned her on to the Moto Q, which seemed a little sleeker and a lot cheaper than the Treo. I was not convinced the Moto Q was the right call, but the only way to tell was to get the devices in her hands so she could have at them.

We went to two Sprint stores. The first store did not have the Moto Q in stock and the display Treo was broken. Nonetheless, the saleswoman put a hard sell on the Treo 700p, eventually showing us the little marketing flipbook while saying, "This will tell you why you want a Treo. It is the best."

Both of us were put off by this approach. While she had no qualms talking smack about the Q, the saleslady could not actually provide a Treo to test nor could she verbalize a coherent argument about why the Treo was so good. And why exactly wasn't the Q in stock? Sold out maybe?

Somewhat disgusted, we went to a second Sprint store. This place had the Moto Q in stock, but the demo was not operational. But my girlfriend didn't like the little thumbwheel, which was enough to kill her interest in the Q. Then the salesman here -- who was much more helpful, by the way -- put a Treo 700p in her hands and basically told her, "This is the best."

At the time, I knew that Sprint and Palm would a few days hence announce the new Treo 755p, which would supplant the 700p. But I did not know when the units would be available. If they would be available soon, I could envision clearance prices on the older model within a matter of days or weeks. And since I had not yet received the test unit, I did not have a good feel for how significant the difference would be between the two models.

Obviously, the salesman knew his stuff about Treos. He admitted a new Treo was coming, as it had been leaked on Web sites long before this week's official announcement. But he told us it wouldn't be out until July, and I was not in a position to call him on it with any certainty.

When my girlfriend's eye caught on this -- with its big screen and spacious keypad -- the salesman talked her down and guided her back to the Treo 700p, even though this device cost significantly more -- and would presumably pull in more commission for the salesman.

My girlfriend was sold. The salesman was persuasive without being pushy, he gave us all the discounts that were available online only, and he did not try to push her into buying accessories in the store, telling her where to look online for more options. I didn't doubt his motives.

But looking back at the combined experience between the two stores, I really had to wonder -- did Sprint issue a memo to push the Treo 700p before the new device announcement in order to reduce stock before it needed to slash prices?

I'm guessing yes.

Sprint sells both Palm OS- and Windows Mobile-powered versions of the Treo 700. At one point, I asked the second salesman about the Windows version, which he immediately dismissed as inferior. I then asked him what the uptake was like on the Palm flavor versus the Windows unit, and he indicated that hands down, people just prefer the Palm OS.

During my interviews with Palm regarding the 755p, I specifically asked about adoption rates of Treos with Palm OS compared to those running Windows. I was told that Palm does not track that distinction in its sales numbers.

Now, I do not believe that for one single second. With the Palm OS being spun off into what is now Access Systems, Palm itself is a hardware company. Only. A hardware company that apparently does not want to admit any knowledge about which models are actually preferred.

In truth, it seems like a silent acknowledgment that Palm is giving up on Palm OS. Maybe it doesn't care about differentiating the numbers between the two operating systems because the Palm OS is already dead in executives' minds, even if -- as the salesman said -- people just prefer the Palm-powered Treos.

My review of the Treo 755p revealed that the new unit runs the exact same operating system version (v5.4.9) as the Treo 700p -- which is almost precisely a year old already. This lack of inspiration and cutting-edge development seems to indicate that Palm may be suffering from its own mix of dread and ennui.