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Palm to Developers: We Love You, We Want You

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palm-preAs we have said before, developers are the kingmakers in the brave new world of the mobile Internet. That sentiment was made pretty evident at a small gathering organized by Palm (s PALM) in San Francisco today. The event was held to introduce Ben Galbraith and Dion Almaer, two ex-Mozilla employees who are now spearheading Palm’s developer program. Palm also made two announcements about its developer program that are intended to entice developers to build apps on its WebOS platform.

First, developers will be able to distribute their applications via the web to users without Palm reviewing their apps first — a strategy that is the polar opposite of Apple (s appl), the current leader when it comes to developers’ attention. Once Palm receives an app from a developer, it will send them a URL which then can be distributed to users. When users click on the URL, the app will be loaded onto their devices. Palm is also creating an app catalog for developers who want to feature their apps in it.

Palm will charge developers $50 per application to be included in the catalog and will review apps featured in it. To help make apps more discoverable, Palm is also introducing an auction-based promotion system similar to “a popular search engine.” Palm faces an uphill climb when it comes to attracting developers, since most are flocking to the fast-growing Apple iPhone platform. As the sales of iPhones and iPod touches rise, they become even more attractive to developers.

Palm’s Pre has received a lukewarm reception in the market and has yet to take its position as a viable competitor to the iPhone. Nevertheless, the company is ready for a fight. Drawing on their Mozilla roots, Galbraith and Almaer said Palm is introducing an open source developer program. Palm usually charges developers $99 to build apps on the WebOS platform, and now it will waive the $99 fee if the apps are open source.

We spoke to Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein about whether the Palm Pre will be available on any other U.S. carriers other than Sprint. Rubenstein told us, “Right now, Sprint (s FON) is our exclusive partner. We have no other announcements to make at this time.” There has been some speculation that Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon (s VZ) and Vodafone, was going to carry the Palm Pre. In the international markets, the Pre and the recently announced Pixi will be available on Bell Mobility (in Canada) and Telefonica in Europe. During the talk, Rubenstein said, “We’ll be coming out in more networks in the UK, Spain, Ireland and Germany. We’ll be coming out with more networks and more regions over time. We’ll be coming out with more products over time, so we’ll continue to add to our family of products.”

Rubenstein told us that he considered Palm, Apple and RIM as “three companies that have an advantage to everyone else in the space” because they deeply integrate hardware and software together into a complete smartphone package. He noted that there’s room for between three and five other players in the mobile business.

When talking about the number of apps available for WebOS during the event, Rubenstein said, “A lot of people have been bitching about the fact that we’re not moving fast enough…but we wanted to make sure that at each step along the way we were doing the right things.” Rubenstein said that 7.5 million WebOS apps have been downloaded so far.

11 Responses to “Palm to Developers: We Love You, We Want You”

  1. What the F????! ! ! ! !

    Palm charges $50 PER APPLICATION to include it in their catalog????! ! ! !

    Even Apple doesn’t charge this extra cost. Once you pay $99 to become a developer, you can add as many Apps as you want to the App Store.

    Palm’s charge per app is a huge disincentive to write software for them.

    Remember that the early and many apps are experimental apps that allow developers to develop their skills on the iPhone. Palm’s charge per app heavily discourages this.

  2. As a developer with limited resources, I won’t develop apps for this device unless I can get a phone for free. Its unfortunate for Palm, but I think many share this view.

  3. Can Palm go back to its strengths and offer a device that is not also a phone? If Apple can have iPhone and iPod using the same apps and both with WiFi/Bluetooth can’t Palm do the same?

    I loved the Palm Pilot, and want to upgrade mine but do not want it in a Smart Phone.

    • I am with you on that – I loved my TX and sorely miss it. But the iPod Touch is a worthy successor to that market – proof that people were wrong when they said that the PDA is dead.

      In fact, the iPhone is really just a PDA that can also make phone calls :)

  4. Marketingwords Aside

    The CEO thinks Palm is one of the top three? Now THAT’S a surprise! Okay, maybe not.

    However, unlike Android (and iPhone?), 99.99% of the applications for WebOS (and, though the Pre isn’t a smash, there IS another phone coming using that OS) are forced to be written in HTML and javascript, making them “open source” right up front. So if you’re going to give your app away the tiny step to “open sourceness” is literally just to say it’s open source.

    Those who want to charge for their apps are charged all the fees even though the source to their apps is wide open – it simply isn’t DECLARED as such.

  5. Anonymous

    “Once Palm receives an app from a developer, it will send them a URL which then can be distributed to users. When users click on the URL, the app will be loaded onto their devices.”

    Maybe i’m missing something here but whats the point?
    Either they review the app and make sure it’s ok or they let users install anything from anywhere like WiMo and Android.
    To me that sounds like they are taking the worse out of both worlds.
    You can only download applications directly from the manufacturer and it may still be harmful crap you download.

    Imho the best solution for users would be a store like itunes + the abiity to install software from any other source. But this does not sound like the best solution for users but like the best solution for palm.

    • Simple. For distribution in their app store, they need to test and approve. If a developer wants to distribute the “beta” themselves, they are free to do so.

      Best of both worlds, not worst. Developers can get to market early if they are willing to market themselves, and take the risk of supporting buggy apps. Developers can beta test with wider numbers of people without having to hack the phones. Developers of mature apps can sell direct to consumer themselves and keep revenues, or sell through app store and rev share with Palm.

      Consumers can go to the app store, and be assured of tested quality apps, categorization, organization, and confidence in offering/storing their payment info. Consumers will be able to go straight to developers if they want an early-release version of an app, a specialty version, or if they have a stronger relationship with the developer than then App Store.

      • Anonymous

        On Android, Symbian and WiMo you can get to market at any time in any way.
        There is also room for app stores that approve software before publishing.

        The only way i can make sense of the requirement to pass any application to Palm and wait for an Url is that Palm wants to keep the ability to reject apps they don’t like.

        Neither does the user nor the developer gain anything from Palms move.

        • I agree. Unless they get to about 2 million devices, developers will have a tough time trying to justify developing for the Palm’s OS. As you point out, there is room for improvement for the company to engage the developers. Nevertheless, a good solid first step.

  6. Android already doesn’t review apps and publishes to the market immediately. They also only charge $25.

    Android also allows developers to make calls to the hardware, which allows a robust environment to be created. Not sure why Android wasn’t mentioned as a major player in the smartphone realm.

    As a Pre, iPhone and Android owner, Android seems to have the most promise, given they upgrade their models of phones. Is there a conspiracy going on to etch Android out because they are that much of a threat or am I seriously missing something?