Will Sprint and Palm Help or Hurt Each Other?

I’m sure by now you’ve all seen my fascination with Sprint Nextel and Palm. I think Sprint has a great network (nice and speedy…nice!) and Palm is an interesting case as they’ve gone from market innovator to laggard and now possibly leader (or at least competitor) again with the Pre. Examined separately, each company has its unique set of quality attributes and unique set of problems. Palm and Sprint have been working together for years now as Sprint gets exclusive rights to launch Palm’s new products before anyone else can. This has certainly helped Sprint with the Palm Centro being the last great example and now the Palm Pre as the next hope for the two companies. But the question remains…is the exclusive partnership of Palm and Sprint detrimental to both companies?

Let’s look at Sprint first. Hordes of customers have been abandoning Sprint Nextel for a while now. At first it was because of crappy customer service. Dan Hesse addressed that immediately as he took the helm at CEO and I can honestly say I’ve never had a customer service issue (I’ve been a customer of Sprint and Verizon for years now). Being the number three carrier now however there are probably other reasons people are leaving Sprint. For one, that little iPhone thing that you may have heard of by now is sending loads of people over to AT&T. There are a few holdouts here and there but most trendy users and other techies are digging their iPhone. I know of a number of people that made the switch to AT&T simply for the iPhone. And then you’ve got Verizon which touts the most reliable network. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s a good marketing plan for them. Why would anyone want to be on a lesser network?

Sprint is supposedly starting a new advertising campaign today to tout the wonders of their fast network and also to brag about the affordability of this network. Go get ’em Sprint! Stop sitting back and letting everyone badmouth you as they brag about their own networks.

Now for a quick look at Palm. They created a whole new market with the Palm Pilot back in the day. Hell, they even made Apple’s Newton a non-issue…not bad, not bad. However, Palm got complacent and rested on their laurels as other competing products came and improved on their ideas. The Palm Treo was a pretty nifty phone too but again, OS updates coming at a snail’s pace, hardware updates coming at the same frequency while the Blackberry was continually updating their smartphone line just helped show that Palm probably wouldn’t last in this competitive marketplace. Even “regular” phones were coming up with newer and more innovative features while the Treo had its old but somewhat reliable apps. When the iPhone came, egads. It looked like the end of the line for Palm. Palm was able to save face with the Centro and bolster investor confidence. Now we have the Palm Pre coming out. It’s already received accolade after accolade for an amazing new operating system (I’ll admit I’m looking forward to playing with WebOS) and a new phone design (thank goodness…the Treo was just sooooo old…c’mon guys…seriously).

Now for the big question…again. Are Palm and Sprint helping or hurting each other?

Consumers are STILL waiting for the Palm Pre that was announced months ago. We still have no idea when it’s coming out. For the past few months Palm faithful have not been buying new phones as they wait for the Pre. This hurts Palm’s sales and Sprint just sits and waits. On one hand you could say that the Pre is the phone that will bring users back to Sprint as no other carrier will have the Pre initially. However, will people leave Verizon (the marketed reliable network) or AT&T (the network with the iPhone) for the number three network just because it has the Pre? The optimist in me says a kickass phone on the fastest network should be a marriage made in heaven. The pessimist says disgruntled Palm users and the number three network could just be ugly.

For now we can only speculate and wait. We won’t really know until the pre is released and we can watch Sprint’s subscriber numbers move as we watch Palm’s sales of the Pre. I tire of waiting. I want to see Sprint succeed so we can have more competition in the marketplace. I want to see Palm succeed for the same reason. I also want Palm or Sprint to send me a Pre to evaluate but that’s another issue.

What are your thoughts? Will Sprint and Palm help or hurt each other with their exclusive partnership?


  1. Interesting post, Chia. I’m just confused. Who are these “Sprint” and “Palm” people you keep mentioning? 😉

    Seriously, though. My take is that the Pre will have to not just match the iPhone, but be demonstrably superior in at least a few areas in order to entice customers to switch from Verizon or AT&T. An incremental increase in quality from Palm won’t do it. Even though the network is key from a data/voice perspective, I’d say the utility and appeal of physical thing the user interacts with on a daily basis affects the decision to a greater degree.

  2. I agree completely regarding the Palm Pre issue. Not only does the Pre have to be superior, I feel his has to be vastly superior to get people to take notice. Right now it’s only the Palm faithful and the mobile geeks that are taking notice. They (Palm) doesn’t have the marketing clout that Apple has so it’ll have to be one spectacular device to get the masses to take notice.

    As far as the network, that’s more of a subjective issue. Again, the network differences have to be noticeable for people to really care. Is Sprint’s network that much faster and more reliable to make people enjoy the experience? What we need is good hardware (the Pre) coupled with a good network (Sprint) to create a user experience that is worth bragging about.

  3. Interesting thoughts, though I’ve been an AT&T customer since I got my first cellphone back in the days of Nokia bricks, so I can’t really comment on other networks. I’m currently a reasonably happy iPhone owner, though two of my good friends have WinMo phones and seem to really like them. In terms of Palm, my dad went through three Palm Treos, each more fragile and displeasing than the last, before buying a BlackBerry and finally an iPhone, which he loves. So I’m with Erik, the new Palm will have to be significantly superior to the iPhone or have some seriously AWESOME functionality to draw consumers away from the “it” phone.

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