The Short, Sad, And Painful History Of The Palm Pre

jon rubinstein sadThe Godfather of the Pre, Jon Rubinstein.

When HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion in April 2010, it inherited Palm’s hardware division, which created the Pre smartphone, and the software division, which built WebOS.It also inherited Jon Rubinstein, one of the masterminds behind the original iPod, and the Godfather of the next-gen Palm hardware.

Everything he’s designed has been beautiful and functional, but has bombed sales-wise.

And in a surprise move today, HP just announced that it’s killing its mobile hardware division.

Here’s everything that led up to today.

2007 - Palm grabs Apple's just-retired hardware guy Jon Rubinstein

Palm was way behind the times. They needed a leader to come up with a brand new consumer product that was a whole lot fresher than the outdated Treo smartphone.

In 2007 they found Jon Rubinstein, one of the architects of the original iPod, who had retired from Apple in 2006.

They put him in charge of developing the yet-unannounced Palm Pre and the WebOS software it would run.

January 2009 - Rubinstein debuts the Pre at CES to take on the iPhone

The Palm Pre debuted at the January 2009 Consumer Electronics Show to a lot of buzz.

It was Palm's first next generation device touting a brand new operating system called WebOS, which touted 'Synergy,' a feature that pulled in all your contacts' information from all your email accounts with ease.

Also, the Pre had a cool inductive charging accessory called the Touchstone.

The Pre would go toe to toe with the incoming iPhone 3GS that summer.

January 2009 - Palm investor Roger McNamee freaks out about the Pre, calls it an iPhone killer

Elevation Partners' Roger McNamee was the Pre's first evangelist.

He told Kara Swisher that it's the 'first device that actually anticipates what a person needs.'

He added, 'This will be the thing that makes Palm.'

'The Palm Pre will bomb.' Henry Blodget said. 'Palm can yip a bit and run around nipping at the others' feet, but it's too late to become one of the big dogs.'

February 2009 - Palm needed a winner, everyone concluded

Palm had been in a downward spiral for years. It needed a winner.

April 2009 - Revenue was down, but Palm stock was up ahead of the Pre launch

Huge buzz anticipated the Pre. Analysts were very optimistic, as were gadget sites.

Palm's stock price skyrocketed before the Pre was even formally announced.

June 2009 - The Pre launches on Sprint, syncs with iTunes

The Pre launched with Sprint exclusivity on June 6, 2009. On June 10, just a few days after the Pre launched, Jon Rubinstein was made CEO of Palm.

The Pre launched without an alarm clock application, which made a lot of people angry because they would be using it as their primary phone. Palm updated the phone to include one a couple weeks later.

Also, in a surprise move, the Pre would sync with iTunes by pretending it was an iPod. Rubinstein's experience at Apple helped them pull this one off.

June 2009 - The reviews are in: the Pre is great, but not as good as the iPhone

Walt Mossberg called the Pre 'a beautiful, innovative and versatile hand-held computer that's fully in the iPhone's class.'

But at the same time, 'The Pre's flaws, according to reviewers, include a lame app store, bugs, tiny keyboard buttons, flimsy hardware, and poor battery life.'

Also, many people complained about build quality issues and problems with the phone's slider mechanism. The bottom of the phone was said to be sharp enough to cut cheese.

Summer 2009 - Apple and Palm get awkward

During the few months following the Pre's launch, Apple and Palm went head to head.

Palm updated the Pre to sync with iTunes, then Apple blocked it. Palm would update again, then Apple would block it. And so on.

Eventually, Palm gave up. It was back to 'drag and drop' for syncing your music.

August 2009 - Palm airs a creepy commercial for the Pre, alienates consumers

In stark contrast to Apple's minimalist iPhone commercials, Palm ran a unique and strange commercial for the Pre.

Everyone hated it.

February 2010 - Palm's phones weren't selling, even once they hit Verizon

Just weeks after Verizon, the nation's second-largest carrier (at the time), picked up the Palm Pre and Pixi (a new candybar style WebOS phone), Palm announced that the devices weren't selling so well.

Palm cut revenue forecasts, and rumours were abound that they were seeking a buyer.

Soon, the Pre and Pixi would arrive on AT&T.

March 2010 - Apple is killing it with the App Store, while Palm lags

In March 2010, there's still nobody making apps for the Palm Pre. The Pre Plus (a sequel) and Pixi are also on the table.

Pundits agree that a platform cannot succeed without apps, which are quickly becoming the 'killer feature' of iOS.

And whoa, look at Android back then.

April 2010 - HP buys Palm for 1.2 billion

In April of 2010, HP announced that it would buy Palm and inherit its hardware and software business.

Somehow Elevation Partners made it out on top, pocketing $25 million.

Dan Frommer prophesies, 'HP's big bet will be a flop, and that it'll have to go crawling back to Windows or Android, whichever is the dominant consumer electronics platform in a few years.'

February 2011 - HP announces the TouchPad, Pre 3 coming this summer

In February of 2011, HP announced the TouchPad, built by HP but running Palm's WebOS 3.0 software.

It would launch in July, and would be followed by the Pre 3 in August, which would be only as good as the previous year's iPhone 4. In March, HP announced that WebOS would be coming to 'every HP PC next year.'

May 2011 - HP announced the Veer, its first Palm smartphone

In May 2011, HP announced its first smartphone after its Palm purchase. It was called the HP Veer 4G, and it was basically marketed as the Pre's cute little sister.

The phone was cute as a button, but was too small to be used as a primary phone. We haven't seen a single one in the wild.

August 2011 - The TouchPad bombs, selling fewer than 25,000 units

HP somehow could've sold as few as 25,000 TouchPads in its first month after launch.

Despite lukewarm reviews, nobody was buying. Nobody's been buying the Pre and Pixi either. HP was forced to cut prices on the TouchPad, and offer discounts to Pre owners.

200,000 TouchPads are gathering dust on Best Buy store shelves around the country.

August 2011 - HP calls the grim reaper

On August 18, 2011, HP announced that it was disbanding the hardware unit it purchased from Palm, effectively killing the Pre, Pixi, Veer, and TouchPad devices.

The Pre 3 had launched one day earlier on August 17 in the UK.

HP mentioned that it hoped to hold onto WebOS, and presumably, sell it or licence it.

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