Pre hits a million, but still playing catch-up

The Palm (NASDAQ:PALM) Pre Application Catalog has officially hit a million downloads, according to mobile analytics company Medialets. While no numbers have been confirmed by Palm, the exclusive Sprint (NYSE:S) handset reportedly saw 50,000 sold on launch day. These devices collectively experienced 100,000 downloads – averaging two apps per device and 5,500 downloads per app on that first day. Now, 18 days later, Palm has purportedly tripled its user base to 150,000; averaging six apps downloaded per device and 33.3 downloads per app.

While Palm has said it’s not looking to compete against Apple, the footrace began a long time ago. Comparing everything and anything to the iPhone is common industry practice today, and it doesn’t help that the Pre is designed with some of Apple’s guiding principles in mind. As far as comparisons go, Apple has more than 50,000 apps available for download (although the majority of which are not seeing significant traction), while Palm still only has a few dozen options.

According to Medialets, Apple hit the one million mark 17 days earlier than Palm, has 16 times more apps and was accessible by more than 26 times the number of devices than the Pre. In terms of downloads, however, Palm’s achievements were praise-worthy. The average Palm user has downloaded 26 times the number of apps iPhone users had, and the average app in the App Catalog experienced 16 times the number of downloads than apps in the App Store had.

In opting to start from scratch with webOS, Palm was banking on its ability to attract a new pool of developers for the Pre. It succeeded in getting hype for its new handset and the developers will likely follow, but Palm has yet to invite them in. Palm plans to open its software development kit by the end of this summer. Hundreds of developers have been granted early access to the kit, but that is only a small sub-segment of the thousands of programmers who might be interested. If accurate, today’s announcement is certainly significant, but who knows what the numbers could have been had the SDK been in place.

While developers wait for the SDK, independent app stores are also popping up alongside the App Catalog to fill the voids left by Palm. Mobile content distributor MobiHand teamed up with smartphone software developer MotionApps to today open the MobiHand Classic App Store with old Palm OS apps optimized for the Pre. Assuming there are any loyal followers leftover from Palm’s early days, they can get the old apps Palm was looking to distance itself from, but the rest of the Pre advocates will have to be content downloading the same 30 apps for awhile longer.

More clarity should come this afternoon when Palm announces its fourth-quarter earnings.

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