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June 16, 2009

Looking Past Palm Pre Madness

Judging by the amount of hype and press coverage over the past two weeks, the new Palm Pre smartphone is the next best thing to an Apple iPhone (News - Alert). But that's a stretch, because the Pre doesn't have as much software available as the Pre and also doesn't support a key feature that everyone else (except for the AT&T (News - Alert)/iPhone combo) does.
Let's get the two "What the heck?" moments out of the way first. Sprint (News - Alert) does not currently support Palm Pre tethering. According to one source, a Sprint official said tethering is possible, but independent efforts by WebOS developers to enable tethering have resulting in Palm trying to quash such rash talk. Reading between the lines, Sprint is somehow worried about its exclusivity being violated or (more likely) it plans to charge extra for tethering and doesn't want anyone to break that revenue source.
If Sprint is behind this pressure, I'm shocked, because Sprint has a long history of being the most "open" of the U.S. wireless carriers when it comes to what you can do with a 3G data connection. They've had a relatively open policy on tethering – so long as you pay them, so I'm not sure what the hold up is in rolling out a tethering app from day one.
Reason two why the Palm Pre has a bitter taste: You need its specialized mini-USB travel charger at $35 extra, according to Sprint as "Other micro-USB charging solutions will not work with the Palm Pre." This is wrong on so many levels. People (and the IT staff who support them) need to carry/stock less specialized bits and pieces; the Pre takes a big step backwards by forcing the purchase of proprietary accessories. Boo!
Beyond that, Pre also doesn't have the hordes of software that the iPhone has accumulated over the past two years, so developers have their work cut out for them to play catch up.  Independent developers/hackers are already delving into Pre's Linux-based webOS, so there are already rumblings of how to "jailbreak" the new phone to install whatever one might want.
Since I'm grinding an axe, the Pre is limited to 8 GB of onboard flash storage and doesn't support adding more storage via a microSD expansion slot. Admittedly, 8 GB is a lot of storage if you aren't carrying around a big iTunes library, but the entry-level $99 iPhone 3G also has 8 GB – to buy a Palm Pre costs $199 net price ($299 less a $100 rebate) and the $199 iPhone 3G S has 16 GB of memory.
On the plus side, the Palm Pre is on Sprint's EVDO Rev A network, so throughput and network availability are most likely bound to be better until AT&T finishes up its network upgrades this fall. The Pre can also multitask without breaking a sweat; the iPhone isn't so great when it comes to doing more than one thing at a time. 
Regardless of pros and cons, the Palm Pre is a first generation device with a limited software library. Wait six months and you'll see better pricing, more apps, and a resolution on tethering.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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