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Seven years ago, the Palm Pre was primed to take on the Apple iPhone

Posted: , by Alan F.

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Seven years ago, the Palm Pre was primed to take on the Apple iPhone
With CES 2016 officially kicking off on Wednesday, it calls to mind CES 2009. At the time, AT&T had the U.S. exclusive on the Apple iPhone and Verizon was in the process of failing miserably with the BlackBerry Storm. Years later, it would be revealed that every unit had been sent back to Verizon. Clumsy, awkward and full of bugs, it was quickly apparent that the phone was not the next iPhone challenger.

T-Mobile had a U.S. exclusive during the fourth quarter of 2008 with the HTC built T-Mobile G1. While the first Android handset showed some promise, there was nothing about it that would have led you to protect that it would soon become the world's most popular mobile OS. Instead, by the time the sun set on January 8th, 2009,  it was quite obvious that Apple had a challenger at last. It was called the Palm Pre, and it ran on a web-based platform called webOS.

Palm had lobbed a hand granade into the market on January 8th when Jon Rubenstein displayed the Pre and webOS. The Pre carried a 3.1-inch screen with a 320 x 480 resolution, and used Multi-Touch which allowed users to "pinch-to-zoom" like the iPhone. The phone slid up to reveal a physical QWERTY keyboard and there was a wireless charging option using the Touchstone charger (which required an optional back cover).

As we noted, the Pre was powered by webOS, which used a card interface. Multi-tasking required a simple tap on an open card (which contained an active app). To close an app, one simply flicked the card off of the screen, a process used today by iOS and Android users.

Palm appeared to have a big winner on its hands. Instantly the phone was considered to be a legitimate challenger to Apple's smartphone. And Palm even made sure that it had developers on board to offer webOS apps through the Palm App Catalog. When the device launched on June 6th, 2009, it set a record as the fastest selling phone at Sprint. The Wall Street Journal reported that as many as 100,000 units were sold over the opening weekend and that most Sprint stores had sold out of their allotment.

The Pre was off to a great start, but storm clouds were beginning to form. The Palm App Catalog, where webOS apps were offered, did not open for business until more than three months had passed from the time that the phone was released. The build quality of the device was questioned as some units suffered the "Oreo effect" with the device twisting like an Oreo cookie. And Palm produced commercials that didn't really focus on the device or webOS. And the role of iPhone challenger was about to be turned over to the Motorola DROID.

Launched as a Verizon exclusive in the U.S. on November 5th, 2009, the DROID offered Verizon subscribers a larger screen than the Pre, and Android 2.0. The latter was a highly polished version of the first Android release. More importantly, Motorola marketed the phone with a series of in-your-face ads. And just like that, the Pre and webOS were finished. Amazingly, in the space of 10 months Palm had gone from being the toast of the smartphone industry, to just another company that failed to challenge Apple.

There would be a Palm Pre Plus, Palm Pre 2 and a Palm Pre 3 (produced by HP, which had purchased Palm in April 2010). But the latter never made it to the U.S.; unshipped versions of the device branded with the Verizon and AT&T name ended up sold on eBay.

But all of that was in the future on January 8th, 2009. When Jon Rubenstein left the CES stage that day, he surely must have thought that Palm had pulled out an amazing last second miracle that would save the company and give the iPhone a run for its money. No one could have predicted the swift demise of the Pre and webOS, which is now owned by LG. Ironically, at CES 2014, LG introduced a webOS powered television.

 

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posted on 03 Jan 2016, 12:38

3. TechieXP1969 (Posts: 9469; Member since: 25 Sep 2013)


I ad the Blackberry Storm, both me an the wife and we had ours for a full year before trading up the the Storm II.

I liked the phone. The only problem was a 528Mhz processor was simply to weak to pull the OS and it made it run slow.

But if offered many of the advantages of Android, like Ui themes.

I sorta miss that phone. It was cooler than people gave it credit for.

posted on 05 Jan 2016, 01:14

51. engineer-1701d (unregistered)


wow i loved my palm pre even unlocked it so much fun great phone if they used todays tech and amped all the specs and released that again i would by it loved it

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 12:49 3

6. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10443; Member since: 14 May 2012)


One of the best smartphones in history. :(

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 12:57 2

8. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


I used to have access to a 3rd party App Store for it. I found an onscreen keyboard for it once.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 16:06

26. youlookfoolish (Posts: 173; Member since: 14 Dec 2012)


I loved my Palm Pre. It truly got me into smartphones and off of the old flip feature phones. I recently looked into an AT&T branded Pre 3 and they are ultra rare and go for a mint.

For good reason. The phone rocked.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 18:15 1

35. Napalm_3nema (Posts: 2158; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)


I loved webOS. I grabbed three of the Touchpads during the fire sale, and I tried for a long time to grab a Pre 3.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 19:55 1

39. palmguy (Posts: 517; Member since: 22 Mar 2011)


Using my Touchpad right now. :)

posted on 04 Jan 2016, 09:54

47. downphoenix (Posts: 3165; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)


Yea, great phone. If it wasn't a Sprint exclusive, had a wider global release, and also had the app store up and running either at launch or at the very least within the 1st month of launch, it could have fared a lot better.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 12:55 1

7. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


Still one of my favorite smartphones. It's size was a damper, but the vertical sliding from factor was great. WebOS deserved a better fate too. Still one of the best looking phones to date.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 22:38 1

45. Kratos7 (Posts: 62; Member since: 15 May 2015)


Funny hot iOS came with that multitasking cards interface shortly after...

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 13:12 2

10. Sidewinder (Posts: 422; Member since: 15 Jan 2015)


All the phones that claimed to be the 'iPhone killet' just went down the water and met with a sad demise while the iphones flourished over the dead bodies becoming even more popular. It is only recently that manufacturers realized that they're giving the iphones more publicity by giving their flagships the 'iPhone killer' moniker. Now that they stopped comparing everything with the iPhone, now the iphones are the ones who are catching up to the nexus, galaxies and the xperias

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 13:17 4

11. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


Your post is really accurate, IPhones have been playing catch up lately, and until they get full on multi tasking...they're still playing it.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 16:19 1

28. Hexa-core (banned) (Posts: 2131; Member since: 11 Aug 2015)


Yeah, catching-up on full multitasking, after badmouthing it in the past!

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 17:40 1

31. AlikMalix (Posts: 5420; Member since: 16 Jul 2014)


iPhone multitasks faster: than Nexus 6p and Note 5. How's that catching up?

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx6XaV2K8Go
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qtBHW5Nn2zI

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 17:56 1

34. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


I'm talking about things it can't do bro, like multi window, pic n pic, and slide over. It's just no reason for not being able to, when it has the hardware. It's like I use my 6S Plus, but when it's time for the heavy stuff, I put it down and grab my ipad air 2 or Note 5.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 22:07

43. AlikMalix (Posts: 5420; Member since: 16 Jul 2014)


DJ, unfortunately android doesn't consistently track my kids for me in real time - for example - is that not multitasking? And iOS is fully capable to do multi window, picinpic and slide over as it does just fine on iPad - why Apple didn't include it in iPhones is beyond me - other than Apple probably thinks that most people will find it counterintuitive in a smaller screen than iPad. But "multitasking" refers to ailments iris tasks ran on a processor - and iPhones are excelling at that as realtime videos prove.

posted on 04 Jan 2016, 16:14

49. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


I would use it all the time on my iPhone bro. I hope the iPhone 7 gets it. My iPad is tops, I'd only get rid of it for a newer one... It's just that good.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 15:27 2

21. SupermanayrB (Posts: 528; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)


The Samsung Instinct being labeled an iPhone Killer was very laughable.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 15:40 1

22. Alan01 (Posts: 360; Member since: 21 Mar 2012)


As were other featurephones of that era including the LG Voyager and the LG Dare. Verizon was desperate for a smartphone with iPhone type capabilities which it actually had in the Touch Diamond.

Alan F.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 16:00

24. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


I had both the instinct and voyager, loved the voyagers battery life...the instinct was crap.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 17:47

33. Crispin_Gatieza (Posts: 1629; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


Actually Alan, Verizon's best early iPhone killer was the Imagio.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 21:23

40. Alan01 (Posts: 360; Member since: 21 Mar 2012)


Imagio was okay...almost bought it...I did own the Voyager and Dare.

Regards,
Alan F.

posted on 04 Jan 2016, 12:14

48. SupermanayrB (Posts: 528; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)


Yea LG Phones were terrible back then; Samsung as well to a certain extent. The Touch Diamond wasn't a bad device. Windows mobile was just a little too complicated for some.

posted on 05 Jan 2016, 01:20

53. engineer-1701d (unregistered)


i went through 13 of the instincts hahahha
still nothing beats nexus i90 or i95

posted on 05 Jan 2016, 01:18

52. engineer-1701d (unregistered)


funny how the iphone took almost all of the things from other phones to make it better your cards came from pre after hp f$cked it up, cant believe the woman things she could run this country after destroying webos

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 13:33 1

13. Yousefjaber (Posts: 53; Member since: 24 Nov 2015)


Ugly !!

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 13:37

14. Commentator (Posts: 3676; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)


Bought one on eBay for $10 a few months back. Such an iconic device...

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 13:45 1

15. Vanliewn (Posts: 65; Member since: 03 Oct 2015)


Man the pre/pixi was a cool phone. But poor apps plus sprint's horrible cell service killed it.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 15:13

19. Hexa-core (banned) (Posts: 2131; Member since: 11 Aug 2015)


Poor optimization!

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 16:06

27. darkkjedii (Posts: 20563; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)


Yeah, sprints CDMA crap network was horrible, and too few apps. The phone itself was great.

posted on 05 Jan 2016, 01:23

54. engineer-1701d (unregistered)


remember the walk into the house with the pre touch to the tablet and everything moves to the tablet that was great
bigger pre now would be great for palm but running stock android like the priv but more stock

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 15:21 1

20. jellmoo (Posts: 1551; Member since: 31 Oct 2011)


Still my favourite mobile OS. It was so robust, had an amazing dev community, and could be used to do damn near anything. The big letdown for the Pre line was hardware. They just kept that same terrible design, and never adapted to what the market was doing.

Every Priv reviewer that mentions how the keyboard isn't as amazing as they would have liked should be forced to spend some time with the Pre keyboard. It was next to impossible to use comfortably, and WebOS 2.0 actually got rid of the software keyboard so there really wasn't a usable alternative.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 17:45 2

32. Crispin_Gatieza (Posts: 1629; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


Still use a Pre3 to this day (work). First with true multi-tasking. First with wireless charging. First with seamless contact integration. First with touch-to-share. First with universal search. No rooting needed for sideloading ipk files. Hardware was a joke, but the OS was the best ever.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 19:05 2

37. palmguy (Posts: 517; Member since: 22 Mar 2011)


RIP webOS You are missed. :-( Typed from my webOS Touchpad

burn HP

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 21:42

42. jroc74 (Posts: 6002; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


With a handful of features adopted from WebOS by other companies right now and former WebOS guys working for other companies in their mobile divisions....

I agree with some that say at the time it was arguably the best mobile OS out. Its no coincidence that Android got a whole lot better when they hired a top WebOS guy. He got hired and started working on Android with Honeycomb.

posted on 04 Jan 2016, 17:39 1

50. Crispin_Gatieza (Posts: 1629; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


They hired THE top webOS guy, Matias Duarte aka The Father of webOS. It's no coincidence that Android sucked less and less after he came onboard.

Also typing this on a HP TouchPad :-)

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 21:37

41. jroc74 (Posts: 6002; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


Everything in this article should be a lesson to companies and fans of whatever your favorite device is.....

If you arent careful you wont be on top too long.

posted on 03 Jan 2016, 22:36

44. Kratos7 (Posts: 62; Member since: 15 May 2015)


Oh man ! I forgot all about that creepy looking chic ad

posted on 04 Jan 2016, 08:43

46. tokuzumi (Posts: 950; Member since: 27 Aug 2009)


I was so excited for this phone to come out. I was on Sprint at the time, and had decided this was my next phone. I had a Treo 700wx at the time, so I was riding high on the Palm coat tails. My buddy picked one up the day it came out, and I remember being so disappointed in the look and feel of the device. The keyboard felt crappy, and because the entire thing was made of plastic, man did it scratch easily. I ended up going with the HTC Hero. My buddy had all kind of problems with that phone. Ultimately, I think the Sprint exclusivity killed the device. No other carriers wanted to touch the phone, after it failed miserably on Sprint.

posted on 05 Jan 2016, 01:29

55. engineer-1701d (unregistered)


hahaha i was heading back from the movies and drove by sprint to see 1 guy inline so i said f it and joined him waited added on about 30 people behind us and even got on news for being first out of the store with one activated verynice i remember looking at the screen and the field with the sun how real it looked lol i hated touchpads but got used to this one the swipe up and start typing was my fav part universal search in phone then web, if only sprint did not suck so much, i really think a bigger pre now with android would do nice take pre orders

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