The Palm Pre has been out for nearly two weeks, and seems to be doing pretty well. But some numbers have surfaced that cast a shadow over the device's success: Pre users just aren't downloading many apps, despite the fact that there seems to be many developers ready to build apps for the phone.
The data comes from Medialets, a mobile analytics firm that has been sniffing around in the App Catalog, and has decided that only about 660,000 downloads have occurred. Assuming some 200,000 Pres have sold—pretty reasonable given that some 50,000 were sold in the first weekend—that's an average of 3 apps per user.
And that kind of spells trouble for Palm, since app sales are going to be vital to push the sales of the Pre itself. A mere three apps per user either suggests the user's aren't into downloading apps, which is unlikely, or there's some other blockage going on. The store does have just 30-odd apps available, which will play into the sales statistics, and they simply may not be very desirable for the average Pre user.
Comparison with the iPhone situation is unavoidable, since it's that smartphone and its iTunes App Store ecosystem that first demonstrated how successful a business cellphone apps could really be. The App Store surfaced a year after the iPhone itself, so there was a lot of momentum built up for app downloads through the sheer millions of iPhones that had been sold. Nevertheless, there were around 500 apps available on launch day, and they've been growing in numbers ever since, and being downloaded in increasing numbers too. Apple announced one billion downloads in April. Apple's capitalizing on the success of the App Store and has used it often in its publicity to drive the sales of the iPhone itself—the more powerful 3G S will likely enhance matters since it'll be more capable of playing games.
Of course the Pre is new, it's not selling in as large numbers as the iPhone does and the app store launched the same time as the device, meaning there was no sales momentum built up to drive app downloads. So the picture isn't as bleak as comparisons with the iPhone might suggest. Nevertheless it is worrying for the long-term future of the device, since Palm's strategy of keeping the app development SDK close to its chest may not have been the smartest move. If Palm had pushed the SDK out to more developers ahead of the Pre's launch, the App Catalog would be fuller and more apps would have been sold. That would unquestionably boosted the buzz about the Pre.
Instead we're left to wonder if the positive buzz about the phone may just die out, because it's definitely not getting much of a push from its applications sales. That's a situation that may get worse, as Palm isn't due to release the SDK until late summer.