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

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.


Related phones

  • Display 3.1" 320 x 480 pixels
  • Camera 3 MP
  • Storage 8 GB
  • Battery 1150 mAh(5.00h talk time)



3. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 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.

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

6. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

One of the best smartphones in history. :(

8. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

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

26. youlookfoolish

Posts: 193; Member since: Dec 14, 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.

35. Napalm_3nema

Posts: 2236; Member since: Jun 14, 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.

39. palmguy

Posts: 986; Member since: Mar 22, 2011

Using my Touchpad right now. :)

47. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 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.

7. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 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.

45. Kratos7

Posts: 62; Member since: May 15, 2015

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

10. Sidewinder

Posts: 515; Member since: Jan 15, 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

11. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 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.

28. Hexa-core

Posts: 2131; Member since: Aug 11, 2015

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

31. AlikMalix unregistered

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

34. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 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.

43. AlikMalix unregistered

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.

49. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 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.

21. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

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

22. Alan01

Posts: 640; Member since: Mar 21, 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.

24. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

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

33. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

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

40. Alan01

Posts: 640; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

Imagio was okay...almost bought it...I did own the Voyager and Dare. Regards, Alan F.

48. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 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.

53. engineer-1701d unregistered

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

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

13. Yousefjaber

Posts: 53; Member since: Nov 24, 2015

Ugly !!

14. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

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

15. Vanliewn

Posts: 65; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

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

19. Hexa-core

Posts: 2131; Member since: Aug 11, 2015

Poor optimization!

27. darkkjedii

Posts: 31531; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

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

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