Palm Pre Launch Beta?

On June 6th, the Palm Pre will go on sale at Sprint Stores, Best Buy, Radio Shack and select Walmart stores. It will be the quietest launch of a new product that has tabbed as being a “game changer”, a phone that many in the media have termed the “iPhone killer”. It won’t kill the iPhone, but it will compete for customers of the iPhone. There is plenty of buzz on Twitter and the heartbeats of technology nerds, present company included, skips a beat at every leaked document or video (which at times can seem like a daily, if not hourly occurence). Ask someone outside of this bubble about the Pre and you’re likely to get a puzzled look. I quizzed relatives during the Memorial Day weekend and the response was, “What’s a Pre?“. Shouldn’t the cellphone buying public know about a game changing product that’s being released next week? Perhaps next week is more of a soft launch or what we are calling Palm Pre Launch Beta.

For some, especially those scouring the Internet for Pre related information, June 6th will mean lift-off. The first opportunity to own and use a Palm Pre. When does Palm and Sprint plan on letting everyone else in the population in on the secret? There are no reviews of the product and it’s not exactly being featured in any major television ad campaigns. A quick product shot at the end of the Now Network series of commercials does not count.

Forgive me, but the mobile industry has spent the last two and half years searching for a worthy opponent to the iPhone. General consensus says the Palm Pre is that phone. Where does this fit into Palm’s go big or go home strategy. That is, unless the Palm Pre launch happening on June 6th is more of a soft launch. The companies have been behind the “first half of 2009″ eight ball since January 6th. Just yesterday, Collins Stewart analyst Ashok Kumar said sources at Foxconn International (who manufactures the Pre phone for Palm), said they are supply of units will be below a reduced estimate of 150,000. Best Buy, the biggest electronics retailer, is on board to sell the Pre. Looking at next week’s Best Buy circular and there isn’t even a mention of the Pre.

I’ve never been on the opinion that Palm is focused on Apple, but perhaps I’m being naive. Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) is set for June 8th, just two days after the Pre is available for purchase. I’d imagine the decision on the release date was a moving target and was dependant on a number of variables. Software, hardware, wireless carrier testing and the ability to churn out enough devices to meet demand. Somewhere on that list was competition in the marketplace. If Palm did not ship before Apple’s WWDC, they risk launching at a time when the media will be huddled around Apple discussing the new iPhone. Some have called Palm crazy releasing two days before WWDC, but perhaps that’s all part of the plan. The beta launch will happen on June 6th and the buzz that’s been occuring for the past 5 months will continue at a fever pitch, but that’s simply buzz. Eventually, the companies will have to let the mainstream public in on the secret. Releasing the Palm Pre before WWDC generates buzz and buys the company more time to get their ducks in a row for the big launch. Somewhere down the road, we’ll see the full-blown launch of the Pre, complete with multi-million dollar ad campaign and supply numbers to meet the demand that comes with the greater population knowing about your product. Let’s not mistake next week for the big coming out party. Think of June 6th as the cocktail party, but just be sure to get there early. Much like the better hors d’quevres, the Pre phones will go fast.

Editor’s note: I’m in no way suggesting the product itself is in beta. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. I’m simply using the term beta with reference to the launch plans.

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