Why I Haven’t Bought a Palm Pre Yet

Editor’s note: With this post we welcome Charles Hamilton to the WebWorkerDaily team. Charles is the founder and co-owner of Web Development in Seattle, where, since 1994, he has developed award-winning web sites that use technology to tell the stories of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and political candidates.

I really, really want Palm’s (s palm) new smartphone, the Pre, to be a success. The reviews so far have been mostly positive. I’m a happy owner of a Palm Treo 755p, which is still a good smartphone (even though it has what seems like the world’s oldest operating system with the world’s lousiest web browser) — so why haven’t I rushed out to buy a Pre?

Palm is betting all on the Pre. The company that was once the dominant player in the smartphone market has lost out, to RIM’s BlackBerry (s rimm) line, to various phones running the Symbian operating system from Nokia (s nok) and others, and, of course, to Apple’s iPhone (s aapl). Those that are lucky enough to have played with the Pre say that Palm has done most everything right: the hardware and software are both good enough to challenge the current leaders.

But Palm has a reputation for taking time to get their products right. The original Treo 600 had lots of problems, and never lived up to its potential, something that is being settled in court just this week. The Treo 650 was better, but the Treo 700p was a mess, which I can testify to from personal experience.

The Treo 755p is a good phone (you can still get one cheap) but it’s useless for web workers. The included browser, Blazer, hasn’t been updated in years, and it’s an embarrassment now that “web-browsing-on-my-phone” is a necessity, not a parlor trick. For a while, it was possible to put Opera Mini on the 755p, but it was a tricky process requiring installation of the IBM JVM (s ibm), which is no longer available. It crashed all the time, anyway.

The Treo’s mail software is pretty limited. It’s possible to get it working with Google Apps IMAP (s goog) accounts, but it doesn’t do push email. SnapperMail does, but it’s an expensive third-party app that, even with a recent update, is hampered by the limitations of the Palm OS, and feels like something from 2001, not 2009.

So I’d really like to get a Pre. For one thing, the webOS on the Pre is designed so that apps can be built in CSS and JavaScript, which means that developers should be able to build apps for it easily. But the SDK isn’t out yet, and despite promises from Palm, it’s anybody’s guess when it will appear.

What those who’ve reviewed the Pre don’t talk about (because only time will tell) is how useful this phone will be in the real world. Will it become popular? Will its revolutionary OS attract developers? Right now, thanks the lack of an SDK, there are very few applications.

And it’s applications that make all the difference is the smartphone world. The old Palm OS was popular because people wrote tons of apps for it — apps for real estate people, medical professionals, and on and on. The iPhone is where the apps are today. Android and BlackBerry apps are much harder to find.

Will the Pre be the next iPhone…or the next 700p?