Sunday, June 7, 2009

Palm Prē launch: The lines, the smiles, the pride, the comments and... the joke

The wait is finally over.

Yesterday, on June 6th, the most anticipated smartphone of the year: Palm Prē™ was finally launched at Sprint's 1,100 stores across the (U.S.) nation. Unlike the launch of Apple's iPhone last year and the year before, the launch of the Prē™ can be considered as more modest and calm, although prior yesterday's launch Palm's latest smartphone has gathered huge attentions from the blogosphere and analysts.

Palm has played well in promoting the Prē™ ever since the company introduced it at CES 2009 on last January, and despite the lack of trust from Palm to lend the smartphone to any analysts, the action however brought curiosity to the peak level and create enough enthusiasm for not just Palm loyal fans but also tech geeks around the globe. On the other hand, Sprint as the exclusive wireless carrier to offer the Prē™ understand well that they simply can't compete with the iPhone, so they tried to downplay expectations for iPhone-like crowds before the Prē™ launched.

Sprint spokesman Mark Elliott told The New York Times (via Wireless blog) earlier this week, that the company not only didn't expect long lines for the Prē™, but that Sprint even didn't want them (people lining up for the Prē™). And it seems that was what happened, salespeople at Sprint stores in New York City said there are only handfuls of people lined up outside on Saturday morning, but salespeople in Manhattan said they had a steady stream of customers for most of the day. Mark Elliott 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 8AM when many Sprint stores opened.

But overall the Prē™ sales has been a success: the Sprint store on Fifth Avenue is said only had six phones left as of 2:30PM on Saturday, in Boston the store sold out of its 55 Prē™ by 11AM, and the Framingham Sprint store had sold at least 20 Prē™ in the first 90 minutes since the opening.

According to an Engadget report, people started queuing around 5:00AM outside Sprint's New York store in the Flatiron Building, with Chris Lee and Randy Williams the first through the door (pictured below). After 40 minutes of activation and phone book transfer, the both gentlemen came out from the store with a big smile on their face, and of course a shiny new Palm Prē™. ;-)

Kevin C. Tofel from jkOnTheRun even woke up early and started heading to the closest Sprint store at local mall which was opened early at 7:50AM, the Sprint reps there told him that they only have 25 Prē™ handsets and just a “few” Touchstones, so in the end Kevin snatched the last TouchStone charger and got out from the store at 9AM. Is he happy? Sounds like he does, like how he express it from some of his early impressions on the Prē™:

Jkotr pre box
"The design of the package is very Apple-like, for lack of a better term. ... Very elegant!

I love the screen. It’s bright and vibrant, ... Everything looks super-clear.

I can already type as fast as I can on my iPhone keyboard, so I anticipate that with further experience, I’ll exceed my iPhone typing speeds.

I’m finding WebOS to be snappy. Multi-tasking with cards is (dare I say it?) fun.

I hated to get the last Touchstone at my store, but I’m already glad I got it. I haven’t even used it yet, but I’m happy because the little door that covers the Pre’s USB port is small and hard to open for me."

That's how Kevin feels about his brand new Palm Prē™, how about the others? Many of them who bought a Prē™ considered it as an investment, because of its revolutionary webOS™. Which Palm CEO Ed Colligan himself has said before that the new platform will power Palm's devices in the next (hopefully) 10 years to come. But for Palm loyal fans, the buying spree can also be considered as a way to support the ailing company...

Skip Tannen, an IT operations engineer at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. said: "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." Tannen was the first in line at 8AM when the store opened, having left his home three hours earlier. Jennifer Stoner, a private tutor from Newton, Mass., has a four-years old Treo and needs to be replaced said: "I hope the Pre helps Palm, since Palm has always had the greatest apps."

Matt Hamblen from Computerworld was reporting that seven successful Prē™ buyers in Boston who were interviewed at the Framingham store said they wanted a new smartphone with a bright screen and a hardware keyboard. 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.

Richard Rosmarin, another longtime Palm user, said he was eager to have a multitasking smartphone like the Pre so that he could read his e-mail while also listening to music from it in the background. "Of course my wife asked me if having this Prē™ is critical to my life, but I'm getting it anyway," he said.

Yes, true. The Prē™ has brought Palm back into the game, for the past weeks the Prē™ has become the talk of the town and its launch has generated enough buzz to make people remember Palm once again. Because of that, it's inevitably for people to compare it with the success of iPhone launch and make jokes of the comparison. One in particular which is managed to caught everyone's attention is coming from Peter Yan, a 23 years-old amateur graphic/web designer who made a comparison photo of the iPhone opening day launch against the Palm Prē™ launch (pictured below).

Harsh? Nah, that's just a reality. Something to whip both Sprint and Palm, to keep thinking forward and keep on introducing better products in the future. But for now, personally and perhaps for you too, this whole Prē™ thing is enough to welcome Palm's comeback to the competition. Here's a big cheer for Palm!!

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