Palm Pre Sets European Launch

The Linux-based, webOS development smart phone and potential iPhone rival aims to have a happy holiday season with the debut of the Palm Pre in the U.K., Ireland, Germany and Spain.

Palm said July 7 the Palm Pre will make its European debut by the holiday shopping season. The first smartphone based on the new Palm webOS mobile platform is scheduled to be available initially in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany exclusively on the O2 network, and in Spain exclusively on the Movistar network. Pricing for the iPhone rival has not yet been determined.

The Palm Pre also is scheduled to debut in Canada with Bell Mobility in the second half of 2009.

"Since we showed Palm Pre at Mobile World Congress in February, there's been a great deal of anticipation for an announcement about European availability, and that day is here," Palm Chairman and CEO Jon Rubinstein said in a statement. "Europe continues to be an important region for Palm, and we're proud to work with O2 and Movistar to spread the excitement Palm Pre has already ignited in North America."

In its first weekend of availability in the United States, Palm Pre broke Sprint's previous first-weekend sales records. Palm sold about 50,000 of the smartphones before stocks were depleted. Palm subsequently tripled its U.S. user base to 150,000 devices.

According to Tony Cripps, principal analyst at advisory and consulting firm Ovum, Palm faces tough odds in Europe since the company is competing to regain some European market credibility while at the same time will be going head-to-head with Apple's iPhone on three of Telefonica's networks.

"If you're a Telefonica customer in the U.K., Ireland or Spain and you're in the market for an iPhone-style experience, the iPhone still looks the better bet," Cripps said in a July 7 analyst note. "Even a heavily subsidized Palm Pre will do well to win the hand of high-end consumers when faced with the two devices side by side. Although some long-in-the-tooth Palm aficionados may be tempted."

Cripps contends Palm would have been better off with a European telco partner that doesn't have a deal with Apple. "Offering the two devices side by side looks like a one-sided fight to us, and potentially one that puts the webOS cat back in the bag before without really lifting its head out."

Developer support, Cripps says, will make or break Palm's high-end device offerings going forward.

By June 8, U.S. downloads of Palm Pre apps were already at 252,193, which more than doubled by June 13, reaching 517,170. By June 18 downloads surpassed 700,000, by June 20 they topped 800,000 and June 24 they leapt over the 1 million mark, with 1,015,038 downloads of now 30 available application.

To compare Palm's experience against Apple's, the Apple App Store hit 1 million downloads 17 days sooner than the Palm App Catalog did - but at the time, Apple had 16 times the number of apps on offer and 26 times the number of devices doing the downloading. In April, the App Store cruised past 1 billion downloads.)

"Can [Palm} succeed? Palm enters a competitive market where the battle for developers' hearts and minds is being fought out by far more significant players, despite the residual fondness the Palm brand continues to have in North America," Cripps wrote. "Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia and RIM already have their claws deep into potential mobile developers and there is only so much fragmentation a developer can tolerate."