Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Yep, Palm’s Coming to Verizon, With a Couple of New Phones

palmplusPalm is expected to announce today that its Pre and Pixi smartphones will be available on Verizon Wireless (VZ) . What else is in store? This is normally Palm (PALM) bete noire John Paczkowski’s territory, but John’s en route to Las Vegas from the Bay Area, so I’ll be tapping away.

  • Some totally unverified gossip from my fellow scribes here at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas: Expect an AT&T (T) announcement as well. [UPDATE: Make that “sort of verified”–AT&T already indicated it would support the Palm operating system yesterday, as Business Insider’s Dan Frommer notes.]
  • Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein takes the stage: Our platform is a deliberate bet on the Web, he tells us. It’s at “the heart of everything we do at Palm.”
  • Rubinstein notes that there have been 85,000 downloads of the webOS software development kit since launch in July and 20,000 registrations for the new online developer program, adding that these are clear indicators of interest in the Palm platform. [Translation: We’re going to start catching up to Apple (AAPL) and its gazillions of apps. Promise.]
  • Rubinstein: Pixi is the “perfect choice for consumers looking to purchase their first smartphone.” That’s why we have these supercool back covers available. Check ’em out! And now a video of people talking about our stuff. [In the video, a talking head mentions “the death of the PC.” Ominous!]
  • Palm announces a new partner: French carrier SFR, co-owned by Vivendi and Vodafone (VOD). Vivendi SVP Jean-Marc Tassetto says his company reaches half of the country’s population, simultaneously taking a dig at Apple and offering praise for Palm: “We started negotiating in Cupertino, we ended up in Sunnyvale.”
  • Palm SVP of Product Marketing Katie Mitic updates Palm’s developer program. After six months in closed beta, it is formally opening up. Any developer can submit a webOS app. Why work with Palm, Mitic asks? Her answer includes more coded Apple digs: The company promises a “fast and easy development” cycle and “freedom and choice” in how developers take apps to market. There are now 1,000 apps and Palm expects much faster growth.
  • Palm promises a “new approach to app distribution,” i.e., you won’t have to get Palm apps exclusively through Palm’s equivalent of iTunes. You can get them anywhere on the Web or via mobile. Mitic shows off as an example.
  • Coming this spring: A “Hot Apps” bonus program–$1,000 to developers with the best distribution (both free and paid), measured by downloads.
  • Also coming: A new “Plug-in development kit” for webOS.
  • We’re shown some new games from the likes of Gameloft and Electronic Arts (ERTS), including Need for Speed and Sims, etc. These are available today in the U.S.
  • Here’s Travis Boatman, VP of EA Mobile’s Worldwide Studios. Palm came to us a few months ago, he notes, before offering praise for Palm (duh): “Within a few weeks, we realized how great this SDK is….It’s really easy to use,” etc.
  • Some demos: Sims3, Need for Speed Undercover (which does indeed look “gorgeous,” as Boatman says).
  • More from Katie Mitic, who introduces Paul Cousineau, product marketing director, who is going to demo something involving Pre’s camera.
  • New feature: Video recording. Cousineau demos an editing feature with footage he just took onstage. It can be shared to Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, Facebook, etc., and will be available to all customers in February via software update. “No new hardware required.”
  • Cousineau demonstrates integration of various webOS features, moving data/elements from one app to another–sharing a YouTube clip that was just shot, for example.
  • Back to Mitic: More on over-the-air software updates. There have been nine updates since June, she says, covering battery performance, email, search, etc., adding that Palm is “bringing the pace of Web development to the mobile environment.” The February update will have a battery performance boost, too.
  • Back to Rubinstein, who focuses on two new products. He pulls the first, “Pre Plus,” from his pocket, describing it as a “more elegant, easy-to-use experience.” Button goes away, memory increases. It comes with 16 gigabytes of flash. The second new product,”Pixi Plus,” comes with built-in Wi-Fi. More color choices for back cover.
  • Carrier announcements: Both new phones are available exclusively on Verizon Wireless.
  • There’s a new 3G “mobile hotspot” app for both new phones that allows users to tether with the “appropriate data plan.” They can connect up to five devices.
  • Next: A taped message from Verizon Wireless CMO John Stratton, who is snowed in at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, apparently. Phones will be avail starting Jan. 25, he says.
  • How much will the new Palm phones cost? We won’t tell you! Ho ho ho.
  • Rubinstein recaps, promising to allow CES visitors to actually hold the new phones this time. (Last year Palm had a “look but don’t touch” policy when it showed off the Pre).

There’s no mention of AT&T, even though the carrier has been talking about Palm options in public. Interesting. Maybe there’s a “one carrier per press event” rule.

UPDATE (sort of): After the event, I asked Rubinstein about the phantom announcement from AT&T. Here’s the entire exchange.

Rubinstein: “We don’t have anything to announce.”

Me: “Really? Because AT&T executives are saying they’ll have two phones running the webOS later this year.”

Rubinstein: “We don’t have anything to announce.”

He was smiling a bit, though. Certainly cheerier than when I asked former Palm CEO Ed Colligan about Pre pricing last year.