By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
June 5, 2009

Palm (PALM) brought the Pre to Hollywood Wednesday to bask in the glow of the glitterati. On Friday morning it got down to business and brought its hot new phone to midtown Manhattan.

At an invitation-only event,  roughly 100 men in business suits — and a handful of women — gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel to nibble on fresh fruit and croissants and weigh in their own hands the newest entry in the smartphone sweepstakes.

The event was hosted by Sprint (S), the Pre’s exclusive carrier — at least for now — and in his introductory remarks Sprint CEO Dan Hesse joked about how out of place he felt at the L.A. event dressed in a suit jacket. “I needed a little black turtleneck or something,” he said.

In New York, Hesse made the best business case he could for the Sprint network — the No. 3 carrier with less than 50 million U.S. subscribers after No. 1 Verizon (VZ) with 86.6 million and No. 2 AT&T (T) with 78.2 million. He cited a Gizmodo study that rated Sprint the fastest network in New York City. “We have the most dependable 3G network,” he said, “and this year we will be rolling out the first 4G network.”

Hesse tried to put Sprint’s recent history behind it, arguing that Sprint today is not the Sprint it was 12 months ago. He called Friday’s gathering a “coming out party.”  He said he’d been waiting for an event that brings out the new Sprint — “and that event is the launch of the Palm Pre.”

The audience listened respectfully; most of them are already Sprint customers, and over the next few days Sprint reps will be bringing them complimentary Pres.

Whether these guys in suits will be using their Pres remains to be seen. We venture to guess that nearly everybody in the room already has one of Palm’s competitors. We know because while they were waiting for Hesse to speak, half of them were hunched over their existing smartphones — mostly Research in Motion (RIMM) BlackBerrys, with a scattering of Apple (AAPL) iPhones and Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Mobile devices.

The Pre will go on sale to the general public Saturday morning at Sprint, Best Buy (BBY) selected Radio Shack (RSH) stores across the county.

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