Sprint announced Tuesday it would begin offering the Palm Pre -- the company's foray into the smartphone arena -- on June 6. The phone, priced at $199 (with a two-year service agreement and after a $100 mail-in rebate), will be available through Sprint's stores, on its web site and through retailers such as Best Buy, Radio Shack and Wal-Mart.
Much has been made of Pre's importance to Palm, which made the forerunner of today's smartphones with its personal digital assistants. The new device garnered much buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show in January for its design and WebOS operating system, which seamlessly connects personal information from the web, personal computer and phone in one place.
"The stakes for Palm are considerably higher for Palm than for Sprint," Roger Entner, head of telecommunications research at Nielsen, tells Marketing Daily. "Palm desperately needs a hit."
But while the future of Sprint doesn't necessarily hinge on the Pre's success, the company does need to start building some buzz, Entner says. For the first quarter of 2009, Sprint had wireless revenues of $6.4 billion, down 10% compared with the same period for the previous year and down 2% compared with the fourth quarter of 2008. The decline was due largely to a drop in wireless customers. For the first quarter of 2009, Sprint served 49.1 million wireless customers, compared with 52.7 million for the same period a year ago.
"For Sprint, it would be really nice -- and about time -- for them to have a solid success," Entner says. "It's important to them that they win this. But if it's not a blockbuster, they still have some room before [things] get really dire."
With a little more than three weeks before the launch, Sprint executives were unwilling to divulge any details about marketing around the Pre's launch. A company representative, however, noted that the device has been making unheralded appearances in some of its recent "Now Network" advertising.
But Sprint is likely to launch something big -- and soon, says Entner. The June 6 launch date is only two days before Apple's developer conference, where the company is expected to announce upgrades to its wildly popular iPhone and its operating system. Any announcement will likely receive generous amounts of press coverage and techno-buzz, Entner says.
"Sprint has to come out with all guns blazing and get people to pick up the [Pre] and see how great it is," he says. "They have to get out now with advertising, really build this up and have a blockbuster first week."