5 Gotchas That Could Hold Back Success of Palm’s Pre

palm-preThis is it, folks. After nearly six months of waiting for it to arrive, the Palm Pre   hits retail locations this Saturday, June 6th. Barb and I each have a first-generation Apple iPhone, but I’ve convinced her that we really “need” a new Palm Pre. Our intention is to purchase two handsets on Saturday morning and go with the $129.99 Everything Data Family deal, which gives us 1500 shared minutes on Sprint’s network.

That all sounds like a plan, but as I often do before making a technology purchase, I’m assessing some of the compromises that I’ll have to make. Many of you will, too, if you go down this road, so here are the five gotchas of the Pre that are currently on my mind.

1. 8 GB of non-expandable storage capacity. This really bugs me because I’ve held onto my 8 GB iPhone for nearly two years. I really hate to upgrade a device and not actually upgrade some of the key features. I really wish Palm had added a slot for microSD flash memory. As it stands now, my 9 GB digital music collection doesn’t fit on my 2-year-old phone. And it won’t fit on my brand-new one, either. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a Pre with greater storage capacity (either internal or via a memory card) rumored or introduced in the next 6-9 months.

2. Those keys are small. Others have just found this out recently, but I tickled those chicklets on the Pre back in April. The keyboard buttons are very reminiscent of Palm’s other recent devices like the Centro and 800w. I’d like to think that Palm or a third party will develop a software keyboard to give users an option. Why not offer the best of both worlds for text input?

3. Synergy is a blessing, but could be a curse. One of the most appealing and strong features of the Pre is the Synergy feature of WebOS. Finally, I won’t have to manage my contacts any longer — they’ll manage themselves, since Synergy will stay up to date via Gmail and Facebook. But the Facebook sync appears to be an all-or-nothing at the moment. Ideally, I’d like to have Synergy synchronized with particular groups I’ve configured in Facebook. Having looked through the Palm Pre user’s manual, I didn’t see such an option mentioned. I’ll likely not use the Facebook sync but for folks who do, they could end up with a ton of contacts, pics and phone numbers that they simply don’t want to carry around. That’s going to frustrate the folks that don’t realize how useful Universal Search is in this case. Plus, storage space is at a premium on this device to begin with, and I’d rather not tote data I don’t need to tote.

4. Developers, Developers, Developers – I said this when the first Google Android handset arrived, too. Apple has set the bar with the iPhone and iTunes App Store. When folks think “smartphone” these days, they’re equating that with a device that has bunches of applications available for it. Palm has only released the Mojo SDK to a small number of partners so we’re not likely to see hundreds of apps available for some time yet. The faster we see applications for the Pre, the more chance of success Palm will have with it. I’m not a huge user of applications on my iPhone, nor is Barb, so this isn’t a killer for us.

5. Sprint – I have no issue switching over to Sprint. I’ve been using my Kindle 2 as a $359 Sprint 3G network detector for the past two months and I’m satisfied that my coverage will suffice. But not everyone is keen on switching to Sprint, which I’d call the No. 3 of the Big Four carriers here. The challenge will be for Sprint and Palm to sell enough Pre handsets to keep Palm moving forward. I’m starting to wonder if the six-month exclusive deal is more of a hindrance than a benefit here. If Palm had struck a shorter deal, they could have Palm Pres in the hands of customers on much larger networks.

These issues and others aside, I’m still sold on the device and the platform. Assuming I can get my hands on one this weekend, here’s what I expect:

  • A far faster web experience than on my current handset. From what I’ve seen the browser is extremely fast.
  • A few days of getting used to the hardware keyboard. It took me around three days to get comfortable with the iPhone keyboard, so that’s what I’m willing to give the Pre.
  • The joy of running apps in the background, although I’ll be watching for the hit on battery life. I’ve wanted to stay logged into Google Talk for work all day on my phone, but simply can’t with the device I own now.
  • A feeling that I got a really good value. For $129.99 a month, we’ll have two phones with plenty of talk time for us, several premium Sprint services (Sprint TV, NASCAR, GPS Navigation etc….) and unlimited data access for the web, email and more.
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