Where are all the Palm Pre apps?

Palm's long-awaited Pre finally went on sale this weekend, selling briskly during its first 48 hours of retail availability. Soleil/Nelson Alpha Research analyst Michael Nelson estimates consumers purchased roughly 75,000 to 80,000 Pre devices over the weekend, with existing Sprint subscribers accounting for roughly 80 percent of sales. "Although we expect most Pre sales to be to existing Sprint customers, we do believe Sprint has an opportunity to capitalize on the media buzz surrounding the Pre," Nelson told The Wall Street Journal, which reports that most analysts agreed sales were impressive but not stellar, falling far behind the 150,000 first-weekend iPhones sold by Apple when the smartphone premiered two summers ago.

Fairly or not, the iPhone is the de facto point of comparison for the Pre, not just in terms of sales totals and user experience but also in regards to the quantity and quality of available applications. And while no one expected the Pre to launch with an app catalog to rival Apple's App Store, the scarcity of software optimized for the device is still perplexing. Palm only released the Pre's Mojo SDK to a handful of preferred developer partners, but Gearlog reports that at a press event Friday, the handset maker's vice president of global sales Dave Whalen promised the public SDK is "very close to launch." Palm's exclusive operator partner Sprint said it's not concerned by the absence of Pre apps, however. "You're not going to get a critical mass of developers coding for the new platform until you give them devices," Sprint vice president of product and technology development Kevin Packingham told The Wall Street Journal. "There's only so many things you can control in the initial delivery."

But Sprint should be worried: A recent study suggests applications are playing a growing role in determining consumers' handset purchases. About 67 percent of iPhone and Android G1 owners tell creative consulting firm Gravity Tank that the availability of new apps and games shaped their smartphone buying decision. Still, apps don't wield quite the same consumer influence as other key factors--74 percent of respondents said they selected their iPhone or G1 because the device allowed them to check their email and calendar, and another 74 percent chose their phone because it enabled them to consolidate multiple devices into one product. Gravity Tank reports that iPhone and Android G1 owners have now downloaded an average of 23.6 mobile applications to their smartphones and use an average of 6.8 apps each day--48 percent of smartphone owners shop for new applications more than once a week, and 49 percent say they use mobile apps for more than 30 minutes a day. The Pre may still emerge as the "iPhone killer" many have proclaimed it to be, but for consumers looking for an application experience even a fraction as compelling as what the iPhone or G1 offer, it's more a buzz killer than anything else. -Jason