Is Palm up or Palm down? The answer depends on how well consumers receive the slick new Palm Pre smart-phone the company introduced Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The early buzz has to cheer the company. Palm’s stock closed at $4.45 on the news, up nearly 35 percent. “This keeps Palm in the game,” said Creative Strategies President Tim Bajarin, an industry analyst.
A smart-phone pioneer with its Treo, Palm has fallen on tough times against rivals such as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry and Apple’s iPhone.
When Pre launches with exclusive U.S. carrier Sprint in the first half of 2009, it will be the first phone to run Palm’s new operating system, called WebOS, under development for well over a year.
“We’re extremely enthusiastic about this device,” said Sprint CEO Dan Hesse.
No pricing for the hardware has been set.
Pre is a handsome, curved, 4.8-ounce device that’s more compact than the iPhone. Like the iPhone, it uses sensors and touch gestures to enlarge photos and Web pages.
It also has a hidden, slide-down QWERTY keyboard to complement the vibrant 3.1-inch touch-screen. There are other features that the iPhone doesn’t have, including support for Bluetooth wireless stereo devices and a removable battery.
You can also run several applications at once. For example, you’ll be able to listen to music in the Pandora Internet radio application while surfing the Web. You cannot do that on the iPhone.
Facebook was one of the partners to join Palm on stage at CES. Other partners include Google, Yahoo and Amazon. But Palm was not specific about the number of applications that will be available for the phone at launch.
Pandora Chief Technology Officer Tom Conrad said it took days rather than months to develop the Pandora app for the new Palm. The operating system “is really solid,” he said.
Palm Chairman Jon Rubinstein, a former Apple executive instrumental in producing the iPod, said, “We’re just getting started.” A big early goal: “It had to be mostly usable with a single hand and minimize the number of button presses.”
Palm CEO Ed Colligan scoffs at critics who think the Pre arrives too late to compete against BlackBerry, iPhone and other competitors. “I don’t even remotely feel like it’s too little too late. It’s a big, big space.”