Bell is working hard to position the new Palm Pre as the pre-eminent alternative to the iPhone in Canada. They’re got a boatload of the devices and they want you to buy one and commit to their network for the long run in the process.
There’s no doubt that the Pre is a killer device and that its Web OS bolsters a new mobile computing era that the iPhone began a couple of years ago. But there’s a lot of reason not to buy into the device at this time.
In partnership with Telus, Bell will be rolling out a new, much faster 3G HSPA network for Christmas. This means their current CDMA-based mobile network is effectively end-of-life. And that’s the network the Pre will live on. Come 2010, a slew of new, better devices will roll out for the new, fast network and, within a year, the old network will be like that forgotten country lane. The Pre will be forever constrained to bump along on it like your Grandpa’s Buick.
Long Term Commitment
You can’t get a Pre unless you commit to Bell for 36 months. That’s a long, long time, especially considering that there’s a heck of a lot of change going on in the Canadian mobile marketplace these days. On top of the new network, the epiphany of the iPhone is forcing innovation that is resulting in an outpouring of amazing new devices. Buying into the Pre for 36 months is way too long. You’ll be kicking yourself for doing it before next summer.
Version 1.0 Syndrome
Every geek worth his salt respects the ancient wisdom of our elders: never buy version 1.0. The Pre is the ailing Palms’ desparate – and valiant – grasp the company’s former glory. It’s an ambitiously big step for a company on such unsteady ground, with a new operating system and new hardware. And it’s the first kick at the can. Which means that the device, while cool at first in all its newness, will seem very cutting edge. But anyone who bought a first generation iPhone knows how fast that sheen wears off fast. It’s advisable to wait until Palm releases a version 2 device. It’ll be more solid, less buggy, and even more feature-rich.
Low Customer Satisfaction
Even as Apple’s iPhone satisfaction rating with customers approaches an impossible 100% level, the Pre struggles to pass 50% with US consumers, who have had their hands on the device for several months now. That means new Pre owners have a 50-50 chance of disliking their new, expensive, commitment-heavy mobile device.
Expensive Network Dependency
The only legitimate point of entry for a calling plan for a smartphone will include at least 1000 MB of data transfer. You’ll carve through anything less far too quickly and end up paying exorbitant penalty rates. Bell’s “unlimited data” plans with other required voice features like voice mail and call display start at $100 a month. Considering that with a Pre you’ll commit to 3 years of loyal servitude and you’re promising Bell a whopping $3600 just for buying into Palm’s new dream. That’s too hefty a commitment.
Elementary School Software Tactics
Palm would like you to believe that the Pre will sync with that cornerstone of the global music industry, iTunes, which now commands a full 25% of the market. But it doesn’t. Only devices that Apple permits to sync with iTunes can do so. And they’re not letting the Pre in. So Palm has resorted to software deception, attempting a form of schoolyard deception to try and convince iTunes to let it in. But it’s not working. In the long run: your Pre will be shut out of your iTunes library, so don’t buy Palm’s misinformation; with a Pre, you’ll have to forfeit iTunes.
So here’s my advice: wait it out. Once Bell and Telus turn on their new network, a new, much-needed era of fierce competition will flourish in Canada. Finally, the three national providers will be on equal footing in terms of access to new devices and network technology, and they’ll be fighting tooth-and-nail for customers. Plus, 2010 will be a banner year for exciting new mobile devices. We’ll see an exciting new product from Apple, a Pre successor will probably be announced, and who knows what might come from sleeping giants like RIM and Sony.
And don’t get me wrong: I’d love to pick up a Pre. I think it’s probably a great device and offers a great alternative to the iPhone. But I would only buy in if I could get it for about $200 to $300 and with no more than a 12-month commitment. Because I know the Pre will be outdated and outmoded by this time next summer.
There has never been a worse time to sign an expensive, long-term contract for a first-generation device like the Palm Pre. If you do, in a matter of months you’ll be kicking yourself as you watch the parade of ever-cooler, more able, and faster devices roll out onto a new mobile data highway.