Analysis: Palm Pre sync flap, hardware issues, hurt Palm

Pre fans point to the Palm's WebOS, saying it matters most

Since the Palm Pre launched on June 6, it has been hailed with exaggerated exuberance as an iPhone killer and reviled for pesky hardware problems.

Now Palm has an iTunes syncing issue to deal with.

It became clear in mid-June that Apple Inc. didn't like having the Pre sync with its iTunes application, so it came as little surprise when Apple on Wednesday issued an iTunes 8.2.1 update that makes it impossible to sync through the Pre.

Many users seem resigned to using an older iTunes version if they want to keep the Pre-iTunes connection intact. Others are condemning Palm for having the temerity to promote synching with iTunes as "very easy and elegant" in the first place.

Long-time Palm users and industry observers called Palm's move to tie Pre syncing to iTunes bone-headed, or worse. "I was probably one of the least-surprised people to hear that Apple disabled sync to iTunes from the Pre," said Kris Keilhack, who writes about Palm for Palm Infocenter and has used Palm devices for more than a decade.

"The sync capability was a temporary loophole by Palm at best, which left a funny taste in my mouth as a half-assed solution," Keilhack said. That move will "hurt the public's perception of Palm, [but Palm users have] grown to expect half-assed solutions from Palm."

As an example, he noted that the company once removed reset buttons from its devices to lower costs, urging users to remove the battery if they needed to reset a device, Keilhack said.

The iTunes sync issue is minor compared to recent complaints about hardware problems, including worries about gaps in seams on the case and wobbly sliders. "I've used eight or nine different Pres and the hardware varied wildly, with one where the slider felt like it would fall off and another where it was rock solid," he said.\ "I hate to say it, but that's nothing new with Palm products."

So what is redeeming about Palm, then? Keilhack and others see the WebOS as a potential salvation, even if investors and others do not.

With the iTunes sync flap still fresh, Palm today used a blog post to push its WebOS software development kit (SDK), dubbed Mojo. It's now available to all interested developers, not just a select group.

According to Palm, 1.8 million apps have been downloaded from its App Catalog in the six weeks it has been available, an indication that the company sees a long-term future in the WebOS.

"The WebOS has a solid, strong base of developers," Keilhack said, which is one reason people should overlook the Pre's hardware issues -- and this week's flap over syncing. "Palm is working through its growing pains."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, said the WebOS represents a "paradigm shift" that turns a smartphone's operating system into a "browser on steroids. If that paradigm takes hold, hopefully, the next device that comes out with WebOS will be a success.... The WebOS is Palm's future."

Gold and Keilhack noted that the Pre has sold more than 300,000 units, putting it on track to sell 2 million units in a year. That, said Gold, is "not bad," even if the Pre is not in the same league as the iPhone in terms of sales. It was "unfair to call the Pre an iPhone killer in the first place."

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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