A second opinion on Palm's Pre app numbers

supremanThe Pre is emerging as a polarizing device, even more so than the G1 (which everyone agreed was kind of beta), probably because it’s the closest thing to a legitimate threat that the iPhone has faced. Who wouldn’t get defensive? With strong sales in its first two weeks and an entirely new OS for developers to do their thing with, it’s strong out of the gate but controlled — because the jockey is holding the reins tight. Palm didn’t expect a dynamite launch or a million app sales in a week; what they’ve got so far is, if we can believe what they say, pretty much what they’d hoped for.

Of course, the TechCrunch network is a treasure trove (a rat’s nest, some would say) of opinions, and we have been known to attack the Pre (savagely and repeatedly) despite our interest in it. The app sales numbers for the Pre need more context than a direct comparison to the iPhone App Store, but that is an important data point, so let’s do it thoroughly.

The Palm Pre launched strongly with at least 50,000 sales in its first weekend, and as many as 100,000. If we assume a steady pickup rate (supported by the unchanging slope of the Medialet downloads chart), we’re probably looking at almost the rumored maximum of 150,000 units sold. It’s a liberal estimate, but let’s just use it.

Now let’s look at the iPhone’s sales. On March 6, when the App Store was announced, there were over 5,500,000 iPhones out there, and by the time the App Store launched in June, I’m estimating there were an additional 2,000,000 sold at the very least.

So the user base of the App Store was ~7,500,000 phones when it launched. The launch user base of the Palm store was zero — same as the Android Marketplace, which is doing just fine, thank you. This isn’t a throwaway statistic, it’s the main problem with the comparison. An established user base approaching 10 million people and growing the way a hit year-old phone should is more than a slight advantage, it’s a game-changer. So let’s get proportionate.

By the end of the month, the iPhone App Store had 60 million downloads from 7-8 million users; by the end of this month, Pre users will have downloaded around a million apps, from a total user base of less than 150,000. I really don’t think that’s quite so bad as it’s been made out to be. If you look at the number of apps downloaded per phone, you get about 6 or 7 per Pre and about 7 or 8 per iPhone.

One might even say (if one were so inclined) that considering the number of apps available and the number actually downloaded for both, the Pre is doing better. I’m not saying it, but I am saying that one could say it if one wanted to.

The limitations on the Palm App Catalog are significant — but limiting who has access to the SDK is both a design and a business decision that Palm was prepared for. The number of apps will grow, and the quality will be high because of the bar Palm is setting. The “real” App Catalog will be launching in a few months, so there’s that to look forward to as well. Of course, it’ll open up the App Catalog to the kind of trash apps that make up the majority of the App Store and Android Marketplace, but that’s what people are demanding.

If I’m honest, what we’re really looking at here is a bunch of fantasy numbers, Photoshop math, and estimated statistics that can be interpreted in several different ways. But not all of us are looking for ways to show the Pre is failing; a contentious issue like this needs to be looked at from both sides. How do you see it?

[image from here]