Opinion: So, Pre or iPhone?

Fri, 06/12/2009 - 8:05am
Monica Alleven, Wireless Week

The first full week of Palm Pre vs. Apple iPhone news is nearly over. What’s the verdict?

It depends on what you’re talking about. In the buzz department, the Pre seemed to hold its own, even after Apple’s big $99 3G iPhone announcement on Monday (story here) and the upcoming iPhone 3G S. Maybe it didn’t hurt that Palm on Wednesday kept the banter going with the departure of CEO Ed Colligan (story here), to be replaced by former Apple exec Jon Rubenstein, who at one point was head of development for the iPod. Strike while the fire’s hot.

In the product review department, it looks pretty mixed, at least based on those comparing the current iPhone to the Pre – and by “mixed,” I mean some love the iPhone and some the Pre, but neither is getting horrific reviews. The Palm has a physical keyboard, and its touch interface is easier for some people than the iPhone’s. The Pre also has MMS and copy-and-paste functions, which are coming to the Apple devices. Of course, the iPhone has its slew of applications, and at $99, the old iPhone is hard to resist.

In fact, on Monday I was ready to say the $99 price point knocked the wind right out of Sprint’s Pre sails/sales, and that’s not even taking into consideration the June 19 release of the iPhone 3G S (16 GB) for $199, the same price as the Pre. But now I’m not so sure.

It all boils down to what someone is looking for in a device. Sprint boasts a higher installed base of Palm users than other carriers, so it’s not surprising that Palm fans will flock to that carrier and get in line for a Pre if they like the experience of a Treo or Centro. Same goes for Apple fans (and converts) clamoring for the 3G S. But let’s not forget the segment of folks who don’t even want a smartphone, but a basic phone that still makes voice calls. (Yes, there’s an app – er, phone – for that.)

One additional takeaway from all of this: Sprint says the Pre shattered its own records in terms of first-weekend sales of a new device (story here). We don’t know how many actually have been sold. But Sprint rightly points out the one thing that is much less heralded in all of this: its 3G network.

Sprint has gotten blasted and blasphemed for years about its network. In the early days, it was lack of coverage, but then the Nextel Communications acquisition came along. They say that’s straightened out. Prepaid division Boost Mobile uses iDEN, and although it did have problems getting messages through with the $50 plan introduction, those issues presumably are being, or have been, addressed.

I know, Sprint has lately hammered on this theme numerous times in quarterly calls with investment analysts and what-not. But you gotta give credit where credit is due. Better network performance has been a major priority at Sprint – and it was about time. I haven’t seen an onslaught of critics blasting the network since the Pre went on sale June 6. That’s got to say something.

I’m not (right now) going to nit-pick every claim each of the major carriers makes about their networks. I’m just saying maybe there’s a chance No. 3 will make itself proud. Well, according to Sprint, it already did – see the press release here.

More Broadband Direct 06/12/09:
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•  Qwest set to offer 40 meg broadband tier
•  Report: Senate keeps FCC nominees twisting in the wind
•  iPCS: Sprint providing tech to Clearwire violates agreement
•  Clearfield adds MPO/MTP connector option
•  Report: OTT content causing rift between ops, broadcasters
•  Friday marks final signoff for analog TV service
•  Final DTV transition is relief for some businesses
•  Yahoo picks new CFO likely to shake things up
•  Opinion: So, Pre or iPhone?
•  Broadband Briefs for 06/12/09



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