Is Verizon Enough to Save Palm and the Pre?

Verizon will begin offering the Palm Pre Plus and the Pixi Plus on Jan. 25. While the devices were previously exclusive to Sprint, these smartphones will now have a much wider audience with Verizon. But is Palm's move to Verzion too little, too late?

At the start of 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Verizon Wireless announced that beginning Jan. 25, it will be offering the Palm Pre Plus and the Pixi Plus, slightly updated versions of the devices Sprint first began offering in June 2009.

These smartphones will be the first WebOS-based devices on the Verizon network.

"The Palm experience is all about helping our customers stay connected so they never miss a thing," Jon Rubinstein, Palm chief executive officer, said in a Jan. 7 statement. "We're constantly enriching this experience with new features and innovations. The Verizon Wireless launch of Pre Plus and Pixi Plus is the next phase in delivering this unique Palm experience to more people."

Palm has made several changes to the Verizon versions of their smartphones.

With the Pixi Plus, Palm added Wi-Fi connectivity. In addition, Palm now offers a "gesture area" to the bottom of the Pre Plus' screen. PC World reports the Palm has also nixed the single hardware button on the face of the Pre Plus, and that to close an application, users now tap the gesture area. It makes for an action no simpler than before, but further streamlines the device's already clean facade.

Additionally, Palm has added a Wi-Fi cloud application to the Palm App Catalog, enabling users of both devices to create a Wi-Fi cloud with which they can share high-speed Internet connectivity with up to five devices-such as netbooks, notebooks and MP3 players.

To view images of the Palm Pixi, click here.

There's also a new line of Pixi Artist Series back covers, and back covers in solid shades of pink, blue, green, orange and black, for use with Palm's Touchstone induction-based charger.

Verizon has yet to announce pricing for either device.

On Dec. 17, Palm announced a greater-than-predicted net loss of $81.9 million during its fiscal second quarter, which ended Nov. 30. Still, Rubinstein, a major force behind the Pre, stuck to the company's 2010 revenue forecasts of $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion.

"We need to work very hard to get the word out and get people to understand why our products are better than the competition's," he said during a conference call to analysts.

Ken Hyers, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agrees that getting the word out will be a help to Palm.

"Getting access to Verizon's pool of customers and its marketing strength is going to help Palm out, though now they'll be competing with devices like the Motorola Droid," Hyers told eWEEK. "From Palm's perspective, Verizon is a very good operator to be with, so I think it will help them out. But substantially? I'm not so sure."

Hyers adds that Palm's WebOS is the best interface around-"the multithreading is great, and it's very intuitive"-but that its App Catalog, which currently offers just over 1,000 apps, compared with Apple's 100,000 and counting, is hurting it.

"Applications are a major factor driving device sales," said Hyers.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, believes that the Palm brand remains strong, but the smartphone market has become a free-for-all, with new competition constantly going live.

"They're looking at a degree of competition, with everyone from Apple to Microsoft-based phones to Android, that's really unprecedented in Palm's history," King told eWEEK.

King added that as smartphone applications require increasing amounts of bandwidth, Palm will be well-served with Verizon as a partner. "They're the gold standard," he said. "I don't know of anyone who has anywhere near what Verizon has in the field right now."

Will it be enough to help turn Palm around?

"I shouldn't say it, but I think eventually someone needs to snap [Palm] up and put their OS into another platform," said TBR's Hyers. "I'd love to see someone like a RIM come along and add RIM's wonderful e-mail and productivity solutions [to WebOS] and create a real nice touch-screen interface. Palm needs a big brother."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The text has been changed to reflect that the Palm App Catalog has just over 1,000 applications; Google's Android Market has more than 18,000.