BLOG: Palm?s reality check

Hands up who owns a Palm Pre? Really, that many of you? Oh sorry, you were just scratching your head. I can't say I'm surprised. Being the geek that I am, I unashamedly cast an eye over people's phones, even strangers in the street. Sad I know. Anyway, last week for the first time since its arrival in October, I saw someone with the phone many billed as the much used 'iPhone killer'. What makes this rarity even more surprising is that the Palm Pre is a great phone. Indeed, we awarded it top marks, in part to its excellent touch-screen and phenomenal multitasking abilities.

By chance I had a meeting with Palm this week, who were keen to stress, despite what we may have read in the press, that they are very much alive and kicking. They hinted heavily at the arrival of a pimped up Pre in the form of the Palm Pre Plus, rumoured to have a beefed up 16GB of internal memory and a faster processor; and the Palm Pixi Plus, which will sport a slimmer form factor, 8GB of memory and a slightly slower processor, but for a more affordable price. One of the unique selling points Palm is keen to shout about is the ability to update the handsets over the air. Now, if like me, you tend to glaze over whenever your PC reports that there are updates available, failing to determine what difference this update has actually made once completed, then bear with me. The kinds of updates Palm's handsets receive are actually pretty major. For example, the original Pre didn't have the ability to record video. However, a recent over the air automatic update means that you now can. While the form factor remains the same, this process could almost fool you into thinking you've got a new phone.

So why the lack of prominence on the street when it came to the Pre? When I suggested to them that perhaps a bigger advertising campaign may have helped, they countered it by telling me they had a huge campaign that ran in conjunction with cinema screenings of Avatar. Spending my time clocking people's mobile phones rather than frequenting cinemas (I jest), I missed this particular marketing strategy.

Palm has another theory and one they again strongly hinted at rectifying. The Palm Pre was exclusive to O2, a move that by its very nature alienates a large segment of the paying public. Granted it didn't do the iPhone any harm, but the iPhone has enjoyed a consumer buzz like no other mobile before it, and with all due respect, Palm is not even in the same game let alone league as Apple. Ask your non techy friends and we're not even sure they'll be familiar with Palm let alone know of the Pre. By opening up their handsets to more than one operator along with distributing it via more channels, perhaps more interest will ensue.

In fairness to Palm, a company who has only around 1,000 staff, they recognise that they need to up their game to crack what is a notoriously hard market. However, as HTC has shown it can be done and so long as they keep producing phones of the ilk of the Pre we're well and truly behind this underdog.

Do you own a Palm Pre? Are you thinking about purchasing the Pre Plus or Pixi Plus? How else can Palm improve its crack at the mobile market?

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Mobile Choice

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