Palm to Developers: We Love You, We Want You

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.