Palm Pre in Danger of Becoming Another Apple iPhone Victim

News Analysis: Palm is bringing new webOS applications to its Palm Pre smartphone platform. But this seemingly wise move may prove to be too little, too late for the handset maker to overcome the Apple iPhone's dominance. But there still is a chance for the Palm Pre to survive and perhaps even prosper in the mobile market if the company fixes the problems that are holding back the platform.

When Palm announced earlier this week that it will start bringing paid webOS apps to its platform, it had me wondering how the Pre, with its current lineup of about 30 applications, can simply add commercial apps and expect to compete with the iPhone.

At this point, it's a tough sell. With so few apps, a carrier that can't muster the same number of subscribers AT&T can, and a somewhat suspect product, the iPhone might have claimed yet another victim.

When the Palm Pre was announced, it enjoyed some major hype. Some publications were wondering if it would be the iPhone killer. But once it hit store shelves and the reviews started hitting the Web, all that changed. The Palm Pre was recognized for what it really is: a fine product with some promise, but due to such a small number of apps, it's a device that can't quite live up to the iPhone. It seemed destined to be an also-ran.
But with the addition of new, commercial apps to the Palm Pre, some might think that there is a light at the end of that tunnel. They might believe that Palm is finally doing what it must to appeal to consumers looking for more than what the Palm Pre's software has to offer. Sadly, it might be another case of too little, too late.
Time Is of the Essence
In the cell phone industry, timing is everything. With such low margins, stiff competition and a major, almost insurmountable competitor to boot, if a company that's not named Apple wants to make its mark, it needs to do everything right at launch. It simply doesn't have the time nor the hype machine to help it roll out new features as they become available.
The Palm Pre is no exception. When it was released, it featured a glaring omission: apps. Prior to the announcement of commercial apps, the Palm Pre had about 30 webOS applications available for it. RIM's BlackBerry currently has more than 2,000 applications available for its users. Google's Android Market houses more than 3,000 applications. Apple currently boasts more than 65,000 apps in its own store. That's a real problem for the competition. And it's especially an issue for Palm.
Applications have become a requirement in the cell phone industry. Without them, a phone looks old and obsolete. But it gets worse when we consider the fact that Palm has applications that don't easily fit into the standard created by Apple's store. Applications that can be readily ported from the iPhone to an Android-based device can't be ported so easily to Palm's Pre. It's a different platform, technology and idea. It's a problem.
More Than One Problem
But the Palm Pre's troubles go far beyond applications. It's not nearly as robust or reliable a phone as we originally expected. Consumers keep complaining about its low battery life. Its multitasking, while a fine feature, isn't as useful as some had hoped. Worst of all, it's on Sprint's network.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...