Palm Pre: Out of Sight, Not Mind

Palm PreIs there still enthusiasm for the forthcoming Palm Pre, facing a growing field of rival smartphones and stingy consumer budgets? Yes, according to a new analysis by Web measurement service Compete.

Despite the weak economy, little advertising and no confirmed release date, data suggests the device hasn't disappeared from consumers' minds. Since Palm announced it would release a new smartphone at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, traffic to informational pages on and wireless carrier indicates that people are still intrigued by the Pre.

Unique visitors to Pre pages have hovered around 100,00 for the last seven weeks after hitting a peak of 400,000 at CES, according to Compete. The traffic has remained steady, although neither Palm or Sprint has consistently featured the Pre on their respective sites.

To further gauge consumer interest in the Pre, Compete compared traffic to its informational pages to those of the gold standard of smartphone buzz -- the iPhone. Looking at traffic to and around the launch of the original iPhone in January 2007, Compete found higher levels (a peak of 600,000 visitors to but a similar pattern.

"Although the numbers were higher for the iPhone than the Pre, the Pre's numbers are fairly strong in comparison, especially when you factor in how much buzz surrounded Apple's first foray into a smartphone market that was much less crowded in early 2007," wrote Compete's Eleanor Baird, in a post Tuesday.

Perhaps Palm learned a lesson from the notoriously secretive Apple -- build a sense of anticipation by offering just enough information to keep people interested and let the blogosphere handle word-of-mouth marketing. Indeed, the Pre generated positive buzz among tech bloggers following CES.

"When Palm launched its Pre last week at CES, we were both blown away and pretty overwhelmed," Engadget gushed at the time.

The Compete findings jibe with a recent report by Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu, noting that carrier expectations for the Pre have actually hurt Dell's efforts to launch its own smartphone. While Dell hasn't given up, he said the company had gone back to the drawing board to come up with a more distinct model.

By contrast, "it looks like the Pre may be positioned to have a fighting chance in a very challenging marketplace," concluded Compete.

Smartphone sales worldwide increased 13.9% in 2008 over the prior year, but growth slowed to 3.7% in the fourth quarter as the worsening economy eroded consumer demand for costlier handsets, according to Gartner Inc.

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