The reason for seeing this as defensive pricing is simple; iPhones now probably cost less to buy than they do to make. Portelligent has been doing its usual series of teardowns and found the following likely cost of goods:
|32GB iPhone 3GS||Currently Unknown||$299|
|16GB iPhone 3GS||Currently Unknown||$199|
|8GB iPhone 3G||$173||$99|
|8GB Palm Pre||$160||$199|
On one hand, the Pre has a lower cost at the outset than the iPhone 3G. Given that the cell phone manufacturers are often measuring costs to the hundred of a cent, a difference of more than $13 is enormous, and potentially gives Palm more bargaining room in dealing with carriers.
The Pre also has at least one significant advantage in hardware design. It puts the cellular radio components on a daughter card. Palm can turn out GSM units just as easily as it can CDMA. The company potentially has a far larger audience than Apple because it can work with virtually any carrier in the US as well as overseas. Even dealing with variations in GSM networks in other parts of the world becomes easy by swapping the board. (Available apps are an Apple strong point, and I'll be looking at that question separately later this week.)
Although the iPhone is the market leader for smartphones, this sort of flexibility and larger total native market means that Palm's growth potential outstrips that of Apple. The lowered price on the iPhone 3G is likely there to try and lock in a broader market while the company still has the marketing cache. But it shows that Apple can be put on the defensive in this market, and that any assumption of automatic iPhone dominance is misplaced.
Palm Pre image via Palm.