Palm’s launch tomorrow of its new high-profile Pre device has already been met with mostly positive reviews, amid speculation rival Apple is set to next week unveil new or cheaper versions of its iconic iPhone. US operator Sprint will become the first operator worldwide to offer the Pre smartphone when it hits shelves tomorrow (ahead of Canadian operator Bell later this year), selling the device for US$199.99 with a two-year service agreement and after a US$100 mail-in rebate. Palm is hoping the device – which runs its new mobile operating system, webOS – will help turn around company fortunes, as the vendor saw revenues sink 70 percent year-on-year as it reported widening losses in its most recent fiscal quarter. Initial signs suggest the Pre could live up to expectations. Several leading newspaper reviews praise the device for its shape, how it combines touchscreen controls with a physical keyboard and its ability to run several applications all at once, unlike the iPhone. Wall Street Journal reviewer Walt Mossberg considers the Pre “to be potentially the strongest rival to iPhone to date,” although did highlight a lack of plentiful third-party apps available from its application store. Mossberg described Pre’s design as “much better” than the BlackBerry Storm from RIM or the G1, which uses Google Android software and is built by HTC. New York Times reviewer David Pogue said Pre had the usual checklist of features for an advanced phone, but put it all together more effectively than rivals. Both reviews noted that battery life was not impressive but, unlike the iPhone, Pre’s battery can be easily replaced. A Reuters report stated that Palm shares were up US$1.25, or 10 percent, in afternoon trading yesterday at US$13.74. Palm’s shares have already almost quadrupled since the phone was first unveiled in early January.
Meanwhile, the hype surrounding Palm’s Pre device could be shortlived if speculation concerning new iPhone launches next week holds true. Apple hosts its Worldwide Developers Conference from Monday, and industry insiders believe the vendor could follow up last year’s launch of the iPhone 3G with new models, perhaps including a low-cost version or an enhanced version with increased memory and video camera capability. What is known is that Apple will release the new iPhone 3.0 operating system that is set to include many new features, including the ability to cut and paste text and send picture messages. Steve Jobs, Apple’s charismatic CEO, is still on medical leave and is therefore unlikely to make an appearance at the event, although a Wall Street Journal report today claims that he is on track to return this month.