Palm will be launching its new Pre smart-phone this weekend, which will no doubt provide some interesting observations for supply chain management deployment and response capability. Coincidentally, this product launch was scheduled just two days prior to Apple’s latest iPhone release, which always attracts consumer and media interest, and there lies another supply chain capability story.

For readers who might not know about the Pre, it has been garnering some stellar accolades from a variety of consumer electronics reviewers.  Widely followed reviewer Walt Mossberg who reviews products for the Wall Street Journal Personal Technology column, stated  in his review this week that he considers the Preto be potentially the strongest rival to the iPhone to date, provided it attracts lots of third-party apps, which it sorely lacks at launch.” Other reviewers have also praised the product’s potential.

Within silicon valley, the buzz revolves around Palm’s big bet, the fact that the long-term fortunes of the company are riding on a successful product launch. Palm has been losing money for almost two years, and has been criticized for un-responsive follow-through on other new product releases, including its previous mobile phone, the Treo. An article in E Commerce Times indicates that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse stated that he expected to have product shortages at launch.  The article further references a product review posting on the Boy Genius Report which cites both Best Buy and Radio Shack sources as indicating that their stores may have but two to four handsets per outlet.

Towards the end of April, the blogsphere was active with commentary about Palm’s abilities to support a high volume product launch.  John Paczkowski, on his  Digital Daily  blog, headlined that “The Pre is D.O.A.”  John’s and many other commentaries echoed a report from Collins Stewart analyst Ashok Kumar who claimed that his supply chain checks indicated that Palm had experienced multiple hardware and software glitches and that he didn’t expect the company to meet its goal to have one million units shipped in the second half of 2009.

For me, all of this brings to mind previous stories where product management, marketing or sales, may have trumped the overall readiness of the supply network to deliver high volumes at product launch.  We can recall Sony’s Playstation3 had to forego a launch in the prime pre-Christmas buying season of 2003 because of glitches in producing its blu-ray media devices in volume,  Nintendo took maximum advantage with the launch of the Wii, along with Microsoft and the Xbox 360.

Palm has brought on a new leadership team, including former Apple and mobile device manufacturing experience.  Palm’s Senior Vice President of Operations, Jeff Devine, came to the company after 13 years at Nokia, with management roles in logistics and operations. No doubt, this team has been marshalling its supply chain network to be able to respond to consumer response to the Pre.

While I have no evidence no judge, I along with the rest of our community will be rooting for the extended Palm supply chain team.  It will present yet another interesting case study in supply chain responsiveness, from many dimensions, positive or otherwise.

Stay tuned…

 Bob Ferrari