Palm is pushing the envelope of mobile application development with its focus on freedom and openness.
First, the company is promoting the development of free applications for its Palm Pre smartphone. Palm also is making it free for developers to join the Palm Developer Program, which would typically require a $99 fee. And with its new co-directors of developer relations, Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith, Palm is emphasizing the importance of the Web as the ultimate development platform and open standards-based, open-source technology as the means for developing mobile applications.
The focus on freedom and openness started with Palm’s decision to create a Web operating system, webOS, rather than to use proprietary or nonstandard technology that could hamper interoperability or lead to lock-in. So the direction comes from Palm, but it also comes largely from the recently hired Galbraith and Almaer, who have lived and breathed Web technology for years. The team started Ajaxian.com to promote the use of Web technology, and then they teamed up to start the Mozilla Development Tools Lab to take their vision of open Web technology even further.
Now at Palm they get to apply that vision to the mobile space. Palm will launch its Palm webOS Developer Program in December.
“Almost every line of code I have written for the last four years or so has been open source,” Almaer said. “The Web itself stands on the shoulders of open source [Mozilla, WebKit, Apache, Dojo, jQuery, etc.], and it only felt right that we should have a program for open-source developers and projects.”
And if a developer’s webOS application is released under open source, the $99 program fee is waived.
“Our program will be unlike anything currently available, and has been established to promote a thriving community by giving developers direct involvement in their own success,” said Katie Mitic, senior vice president of product marketing at Palm. “Whether you’re looking for immediate distribution or just feedback on early stages of development, this program is built to scale to your needs and finally put you in control of investing in and promoting your business.”
Indeed, according to the Palm Application Distribution Program, developers can:
““Promote your free or paid applications on the Web for distribution to webOS devices. Apps require self-certification according to Palm’s guidelines but are available to promote freely in any online channel with a unique URL without Palm application review. You can also provide access to other relevant content about your app, including descriptions and reviews. Applications will be distributed to any webOS device using our over-the-air service.”“
For his part, Almaer said he is “personally really excited” about Palm’s focus on the Web.
“This is what drew me to Palm,” he said. “Not only is that focus seen in the core webOS platform, but also in the business side of distributing apps. When a developer signs up for our developer program, they get access to the Web distribution model. You send us your application, and you quickly get a URL sent back to you. With that URL, you can do whatever you want to merchandise your application. Blog about it, Tweet it, get it on Digg, and we hope soon … get it on third-party sites that do a great job merchandising your application. The key here is that we do not review the application at all in this model. We strongly believe in trusting people first and having solutions in place for when that trust isn’t rewarded.”
Jab at Apple
This is just a slight smack at Apple and other app stores that have more strict review and approval processes.
The Palm Application Distribution Program Web page also said:
““Recognizing the value of the web community and the web as a promotional channel, Palm will invest in the tools and services that help you utilize the web and other online channels as powerful promotional opportunities for webOS applications. This approach also addresses feedback we’ve heard from developers who are frustrated by a review-first, publish-later process.”“
In addition, developers can use the on-device Palm App Catalog to distribute and promote their free or paid apps to webOS devices. However, these apps will be reviewed and approved by Palm. And Palm will charge $50 for each application submitted to this channel.
Moreover, Galbraith said Palm is investing in its own catalog on the device. “Getting an application on the device is obviously the most targeted way to get your application out to users right now, and thus has a lot of value. We are not only going to offer a fantastic user experience here, but we are going to open up the way that you can get promotional opportunities.”
“For example,” said Almaer, “one thing we will be doing at launch is have an auction-based system for placement in high trafficked areas in the app. In some ways, you can think of this as getting on the front page of Yahoo. There is value there, and we want to make it as transparent as possible for people to understand how they get placement. Then they can make a business decision on the value proposition, and of course the market itself controls the value.”
And though the Palm developer program and app catalog will be different from others in some ways, it will be similar in other ways. For instance, Palm will offer the same 70/30 split with developers for paid applications-where the developer gets to keep 70 percent of gross revenues from application sales and Palm gets 30 percent.
And true to his focus on the Web, Almaer said:
““We really want the Web to win in the app discovery battle. To facilitate that we will be offering up raw feeds from all of the apps in our system-app catalog and Web distribution. This means that someone could come along and do a simple mashup of a Digg-style crowd-sourcing solution with our data. We want to see many attempts to help solve the problem. I for one would personally love to see a filtered set of apps based on a trust network, e.g., friends that are using the apps. We think that long term the community will be able to not only help merchandise apps better, but also police the apps in the catalog. Baby steps.”“
Meanwhile, taking a step away from Palm and to another Web-related topic, Almaer and Galbraith discussed the fallout over Google’s recently announced Chrome Frame technology, which brings HTML5 and other open Web technologies to Internet Explorer and basically puts Chrome inside IE. One of the issues raised is that use of Chrome Frame might cause security issues for users.
“I don’t really buy the security argument,” Almaer said. “In theory, a larger surface area means more options for security folk; however, Chrome does do a great job keeping itself secure through constant updates. There are real issues around the experience and it’s confusing some users, but how many of those users will install it? There is also the large issue that the people who need this won’t have permission to install the plug-in either because IT stops them from installing a different browser. Also, there is the funny dynamic of users wanting to turn on Chrome Frame for sites where the developer didn’t turn it on. But again, I’m not sure how many people want to do that versus just use Chrome. The IE problem is a real one, so seeing Google go after that in innovative ways is fine by me. Now we will see if it takes.”