Ruby: Droid Beat Us to the Punch
One of today's most hotly-discussed topics in the Palm blogosphere focuses around some scintillating comments made by Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein during the Q3 2010 earnings call. In particular, Rubinstein indicated that the Pre Plus' lackluster performance on Verizon was due to unfortunate timing, inadequate point of sale training and that the Pre Plus is a far superior to Verizon's current smartphone of choice, the Motorola Droid:
We had an arrangement with Sprint that when we launched with Sprint that they would invest in marketing and carry the product and for that they would get an exclusive for a period of time. That really determined when we could do our launch at Verizon…if we could have launched at Verizon earlier, prior to Droid, that we would have gotten the attention that the Droid got and since I believe that we have a better product, I think we would have even done better.
While the debates between the relative merits of the webOS and Android platforms can be discussed ad nauseam, there's no doubt that the Droid has been a runaway hit for Verizon, as Motorola's flagship handset came out of nowhere on November 6th 2009 to bolster the beleaguered wireless pioneer. Rubinstein's commentary is quite telling, as it shows how critical substantial carrier support has become for any new entrant in the smartphone war in the United States market. It's no longer sufficient to merely have a carrier subsidize your handset and carry it in corporate retail stores; now it's got to capture the attention carrier marketing departments as well as the general media.
Verizon's major Android commitment gave the platform a major push going into the 2009 holiday season and on into 2010, while capturing the minds and wallets of many potential webOS users (myself included) who simply were unwilling or unable to wait any longer for a new Palm product on Verizon Wireless. Despite vague comments earlier in 2009 proclaiming that Verizon would eventually receive a webOS device, Palm did not formally announce the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus until January 7th 2010, over two months after the Droid launch.
Indeed, Rubinstein's most recent comments are also interesting as they shift a bit of the perceived blame for Palm's recent losses to contractual matters concerning the initial Palm Pre exclusivity period on Sprint. This is quite interesting when contrasted with last month's "Project Jumpstart" memo leak by the WSJ, as Verizon was specifically called out by Rubinstein for not doing enough to propel the WebOS rollout.
If the nearly eight month gap between the Pre launch on Sprint in 2009 and the Pre Plus launch on Verizon on January 25th was frustrating, then the wait for Verizon Wireless customers awaiting a new Palm release between the Centro July 2008 and the Pre Plus in January '10 was nearly interminable. Most of the former Palm OS users on Verizon that I spoke with gave up hope of ever seeing a Palm device on "Big Red" with your truly again among the skeptical. Counting myself, I know of at least six current Verizon customers whose contracts were up for renewal sometime between June and December 2009 that would have purchased a Pre or Pixi had it been available at that time. Instead, they either went Android, BlackBerry, jumped ship to AT&T for an iPhone or bought a secondhand Palm OS device as a replacement.
Whatever the reason (and, truth be told, there are many) for Palm's lack of initial webOS success in the aftermath of its CES '09 accolades, the company has definitely lost momentum to Android in recent months. Various Palm-related sites and discussion boards are chock-full of widespread reports of Verizon sales staff recommending Android-powered devices over Palm's Pre Plus and Pixi Plus. Despite the various strengths in Palm's favor, there's no question Palm needs to do a better job educating and informing customers of the relative strengths of webOS and its PIM and multitasking prowess. On paper, at the very least, the Droid has become of a bellwether device for non-iPhone smartphone "must-haves" in recent months. Its spec sheet offers consumers a more tantalizing array of smartphone delights, as Motorola's flagship device touts features such as a 5MP autofocus camera with LED flash and standard video recording, a 3.7" 854x480 touchscreen, microSDHC slot with bundled 16GB card, comprehensive voice dial/voice search functionality and standard Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation with no monthly surcharge.
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