For the Pre handheld to beat out smartphone competitors, Palm will have to court developers whose support can "make or break" the device's market success, noted analyst firm Ovum.
According to an Ovum report Wednesday, the mobile device competes squarely against Apple's iPhone, which emphasizes an application-centric user experience.
Ovum's principal analyst Tony Cripps said, in comparison to the Pre, the iPhone stands as a "better bet" for users looking for an "iPhone-style experience" because of its richer third-party app ecosystem. Apple's App Store houses some 50,000 apps and recently surpassed its 1 billionth download.
Palm's App Catalog, on the other hand, only just crossed 1 million downloads. "The Pre looks less well-loved" among developers, noted Cripps.
Developers tend to prioritize platforms that have a broader audience, in order to justify the investment required to build apps, he said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia. In this regard, the Ovum analyst ranked Palm's webOS at the bottom of a group comprising competing mobile OSes--iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.
Cripps said: "Palm enters a competitive market where the battle for developers' hearts and minds is being fought out by far more significant players."
He referred to Nokia's struggle to attract developers to its Symbian OS: "What chance has Palm of rallying the great and the good of application and content developers to webOS, when even Nokia is struggling to keep them onside?"
Will Pre rescue Palm?
The Palm Pre, which has enjoyed much hype since its January announcement, carries the company's hopes of ending its revenue woes.
Palm saw success with its Centro device toward late-2007, but this was not sufficient to prevent the company from reporting a sharp revenue decline. Its Treo Pro device, too, reportedly received a lukewarm response in the United States when it debuted in late-2008.
Earlier this year, the shipment of Palm's smartphone units dropped 42 percent to 482,000.
Cripps said Palm still has to convince operators and users to pick up the Pre. Operators watching this space should monitor the level of developer support before committing to the Pre, he added.
Palm this week announced plans to include a GSM version of the Pre for the device's European launch, expected to take place at an unspecified date this year.