Palm Pre: Can it live up to the hype, or will it flop?

The decision to launch the Pre just two days before Apple's World Wide Developer Conference is risky, but understandable

The Palm Pre smartphone emerged as one of the most talked-about items unveiled at January's 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The Palm Pre smartphone emerged as one of the most talked-about items unveiled at January's 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Finally: The Palm Pre has a confirmed availability date and price tag attached to it. iPhone Killer, Palm's Hail Mary, or a complete flop--we'll finally see what the hype is all about. Keeping their promise of a "first half of 2009" launch date, Sprint and Palm announced that the long-awaited Pre will hit stores June 6 for US$200 with a two-year contract. The phone will be sold at Sprint stores, Best Buy, Radio Shack and select Wal-Mart stores.

It's been a long and slightly frustrating journey, however. At CES, hands-on time was heavily restricted with the Pre, which was baffling. Sure, the Pre's ergonomic hardware looks sexy and its webOS software seems mighty efficient, but how can we judge without actually touching the thing? Then there were the numerous "leaked" launch date rumors and Sprint and Palm's refusal to comment on any of them--these leaks are beginning to feel de-rigeur for any high-profile product launch.

Sprint and Palm's overprotectiveness, combined with their tight-lipped stance on pricing and availability has raised some suspicions--including my own--about whether the CES announcement was a bit, well premature (pun intended). It isn't a question of whether the world is ready for the Pre, but vice versa. Do Palm and Sprint know what they're doing?

The decision to launch the Pre just two days before Apple's World Wide Developer Conference is risky, but understandable. Clearly, it will distract from the chatter about Apple's third-generation iPhone software and hardware. Much is known about the iPhone OS 3.0 software by now, but nothing concrete is known about the hardware. Apple may announce the third-generation iPhone hardware at WWDC.

The pro here is that the Pre launch could overshadow whatever Apple has up its sleeve. But it could also delay launch day sales, as consumers may hold off on buying a Pre until Apple's announcement. One has to wonder, too, whether Palm and Sprint felt rushed to make this date. It would be a huge letdown if the Pre's debut was marred by firmware bugs like the initial release of the RIM BlackBerry Storm.

I have high hopes though, as both a journalist and a consumer. The iPhone and BlackBerry-centric smartphone world desperately needs to be shaken up. Android isn't quite there yet, but I think the Pre (and the subsequent webOS devices) has what it takes. And despite my limited hands-on time, I can't forget the silky operation of webOS. From the deck of cards model for managing multitasking to the Synergy e-mail and IM interfaces, webOS might be one of the best-designed, user-friendly smartphone platforms out there. June 6 can't come fast enough.

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Ginny Mies

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