The nationwide launch of the Palm Pre today was more like a soft launch compared to the crowds that lined up to buy new iPhones, but Palm enthusiasts nonetheless gathered outside Sprint Nextel Inc. stores and other retailers in the hopes of being among the first with the highly anticipated smartphones.
For many buyers, the purchase of a Pre with its new WebOS, was a good investment in an exciting new smartphone, but also a way to support ailing Palm Inc. and even wireless carrier Sprint.
[ Meanwhile, developers are awaiting the Palm Pre SDK. | Dive deep into next-gen mobile with InfoWorld’s 20-page PDF featuring hands-on reviews, analysis, and insights from our editors. ]
"As an original Palm Pilot user, I want to support Palm and see them make it, but this Pre is also just a bloody cool device," said Skip Tannen of Upton, Mass. He said he liked the way it felt in his hands, and was especially impressed with the QWERTY keyboard, instead of the touchsreen on the iPhone, which he also uses.
Tannen, an IT operations engineer at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., waved his arms in victory holding his newly purchased Pre high as he left a Sprint store in Framingham, Mass, about 20 miles west of Boston. He was the first in line at 8 a.m. when the store opened, having left his home three hours earlier.
A Sprint spokesman characterized the launch in East Coast cities as "a nice flow of customers," with some stores attracting crowds of 40 to 50 people waiting to get in at 8 a.m. when many stores opened.
"Our service reps have been able to spend time with customers to set up the new Palm Pre and make sure they know how to ... use the features," said spokesman Mark Elliott.
Sprint sells the device for $200 after a $100 mail-in rebate, plus a two-year service agreement. Elliott, who was stationed at a store in lower Manhattan, said that by 11 a.m., there had been a steady line of customers at several East Coast stores he'd heard from.
In downtown Boston, there was still a line of about 15 people outside the Sprint store two hours after it had opened. According to Boston.com, the store sold out of its 55 Pres by 11 a.m. At at a Framingham Best Buy, where the $100 rebate is automatic, a store manager was waiting outside before the official opening to give Pre buyers a ticket to come back for activation at 10 a.m. He said most Best Buys only had three or four of the devices, and characterized the first day of sales as a "soft launch." At 9 a.m., he still had tickets available for two Pres.
Sprint would not say how many devices were available nationwide, although the Framingham Sprint store had sold at lease 20 Pres in the first 90 minutes, based on the number of customers seen leaving with one device. Sprint will replenish its stock, depending on when Palm makes them available, the spokesman said.
Seven successful Pre buyers who were interviewed at the Framingham store said they wanted a new smartphone with a bright screen and a hardware keyboard. Of those, four said they were willing to switch from Verizon Wireless and AT&T to do so. All of them said they had tried the iPhone, or owned one, and wanted a hardware keyboard instead of a touchscreen, finding the touchscreen hard to use.
Some had more specific interests, including learning about the Pre to consider writing applications for it that Palm would sell in its application storefront, called the App Catalog.