How much attention should apps developers pay to Palm, the iconic company that kick-started the PDA market? The Californian company’s financial results for the quarter ending August 28, in which its new operating system Palm webOS hit the market, suggest the platform got off to a reasonable start. Consumers bought 810,000 Palm smartphones in the quarter, which probably amounts to about 2% of the global market.
Although sales of Palm’s smartphones were down 21% year-on-year, they were up 76% on the previous quarter and its new flagship handset, the Palm Pre, has yet to ship outside North America. Even so, Palm is going to have to ramp up sales pretty quickly if the webOS is going to secure a vital place on developers’ short-list of platforms to focus on.
Moreover, Palm isn’t going to win over consumers or developers unless it can launch a competitive app store fast. Today, the number of apps in Palm’s “Beta App Catalog” can probably be counted in tens, rather than the tens of thousands in Apple’s App Store.
Palm says its developer program is one of its highest priorities. “We’ve had tens of thousands of SDK downloads since making the software broadly available in July,” says Jon Rubinstein, Palm’s chairman and CEO. “And our Beta App Catalog is expanding every week with quality offerings from our Early Access Partners.” Palm plans to “unveil” its full developer program, which will support paid-for apps and will open the catalogue to public submissions, this autumn.
Although the second webOS product, the Palm Pixie, looks more like a consumer play, Palm’s best bet may be to encourage developers to create webOS apps for the enterprise market, where the iPhone is relatively weak. Many corporate IT departments probably still provide some support for the last generation of Palm devices, meaning the company already has some traction there.
Another approach would be for Palm to recognise it is playing catch-up and focus on making it as easy as possible for developers to port iPhone and RIM apps to the webOS platform. Of course, that might mean developers don’t take advantage of some of the webOS’s most distinctive features, such as multi-tasking, so-called universal search and the use of simple, intuitive gestures for navigation.
Finally, Palm could make a virtue out of the scarcity of apps for the webOS. Wouldn’t a new developer rather be competing with a handful of rivals in Palm’s catalog than with hundreds of competitiors in the Apple App Store?