By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm
I don’t claim to have an unerring gut when it comes to judging new technology products. But stuff that knocks my socks off does tend to go on to do reasonably well. One notable exception, however, has been the Palm Pre–I continue to think that it’s one of the best phones on the market (thanks mainly to its WebOS software), but I can’t imagine that anyone involved with it, from Palm/HP to wireless carriers, is pleased with how it’s sold so far.
Today, HP announced the first WebOS phone to emerge since the company bought Palm. It’s the Pre 2, shipping this week in France and at an unspecified future date in the US. It looks like–well, like the Pre only better, with more modern specs (such as a 1-GHz CPU) and a meaty-sounding software update in WebOS 2.0. If it’s all it’s cracked up to be, it sounds like a phone that Palm Pre lovers will love even more.
It seems obvious that HP’s challenge with the WebOS platform isn’t keeping existing customers happy; it’s building phones that large numbers of people want to buy instead of iPhones, Androids, BlackBerries, Windows Phone 7 handsets, and other choices. I like the Pre’s smalllish case and slide-out keyboard personally, but I wonder if the market hasn’t already voted decisively against that basic design. (Palm tried hard to market the Pre to women, but daintiness seems not to have been a sufficient selling point.) With phone screens getting bigger and bigger–hello, Droid X–I’d think that HP would want to give WebOS a try on a hardware design that’s in tune with industry trends. I imagine it’ll do so, and the only question is when.
When I heard about the Palm Pre announcement, my impulsive reaction was “Darn, I guess this means no radically new Palm phone for the holidays.” Then it dawned on me: There’s no reason why HP couldn’t do both the Pre 2 and a more significantly new phone at more or less the same time. And here’s a Pollyannish thought: Maybe the fact that HP is sneaking the Pre 2 out with a press release means that it’s saving up its promotional firepower for a smartphone unveiling that’s a bigger deal in the not-too-distant future. I hope so.