Why I’m not building for the Palm Pre

By May 28, 2009 Mobile No Comments

(or lots of these other “webOS” platforms)

So the other day while at Mobile Monday Miami (disclosure, I’m on the executive committee) someone asked if I was going to start porting my apps to Palm’s new Pre platform. I responded with a resounding NO, maybe too hastily, but I still stand by my response.palm-pre-2

So why am I not building anything for the Palm Pre, even though the apps are all going to be HTML + Javascript (right up my teams area of expertise)? Well Palm isn’t building a global platform out of this phone from what I can tell. They paired up with sprint, which is fast declining as the number 3 carrier in the USA, which means fewer and fewer potential customers. Secondly the pre is built on a CDMA chipset (supposedly a gsm version is in the works, but palm is slow w/these things) which limits the number of markets they can sell it to (USA, Japan, S.Korea are the 3 big cdma markets, and this phone is too basic to catch fire in Japan or Korea). So being limited to Sprint customers and those paying the $99/month fee at that seems like a small market, maybe 100-200k users in the next year. Compare that to the iPod Touch/iPhone market of over 30 million, and it seems to me like a no-brainer which to invest in.

So you might be thinking, well its cheaper to build for the Pre, and theoretically building for the Pre is the same as building for the web right? Well the Pre is only the first handset in Palm’s WebOS plan, so we don’t know if the future handsets will have the same specs, or dimensions, or capabilities, so making apps becomes more fractured. iPhone development is simple, all the phones or iPods have the same screen resolution, same capabilities, and are uniform worldwide. As a web developer who has been building web apps for a decade, hassling with all the different browsers and operating system nuances has been a royal pain, and the last thing I want to do is deal with 5 different phone configurations which serve maybe a few thousand users.

Now if Palm sends me a few unlocked PREs with free data/phone cards in them, I’ll happily dive more into it and let you all know what i think, but realistically that same offer would apply to Google with their Android (which I could talk about later and have many similar gripes).

In the end it all boils down to a cost per user acquisition, and costs to support each user. In a bootstrap economy, we’ve all got to take those things into consideration.

UpdateI was pointed to this link that @whurley(who is a kick-ass community leader in texas) posted about his experiences with palm. Worth the read. via @mherzber. Also worth reading is @giovanni‘s reaction to Pre.