Palm Pre Prepared For The Spotlight?
by Bryan Barletta
On Saturday, June 6th, the Palm Pre launched nationwide after roughly two years of development. Two years isn’t a whole lot of time when you think about the fact that they not only created a new device, but a new operating system and app store at the same time. The device has a sharp design (literally and figuratively), a stunning user interface, and a lot of potential to grow into a competitive platform in the smartphone market.
On May 29th, 2009, 9 days before the device officially launched nationwide, the Palm Pre App Catalog went live with 4 apps (Classic, Sudoku, Today Show, and WHERE). By launch day (6/6/09), this number grew to 18 apps total and then jumped to 30 at the end of the first week (6/12/09), and has remained unchanged since. Compared to the other app stores we’ve seen so far, this number is a mere fraction on what we’ve experienced at launch, but there are a few factors that paint a picture as to why this isn’t an issue.
Palm has been very selective about who they have offered their development SDK to prior to it’s expected public release later this summer. This decision stems from the fact that originally, Palm had no plans to launch their App Catalog on day one. Somewhere along the line, they changed their mind and went forward with a beta version of the App Catalog, which many would agree is much better than launching without one. Those previously developing for PalmOS were approached directly by Palm with the WebOS SDK. This offered Palm more of a launch filter than any other app store has witnessed. Also noteworthy is that aside from Palm’s App Catalog, the only other app store to have a simultaneous launch alongside the first device running its operating system is the Android Market, which launched with just over 60 apps in late October, 2008.
Digging deeper into Palm’s App Catalog actually provides quite a bit of information. The first thing to note is that the entire store and all of the apps in the store are in beta except for one app (Classic by MotionApps). The App Catalog clearly lists this with a banner over the top right corner of the screen and so far, only the app Classic has had a version number of 1 and higher, the rest have been variations of 0.9 or lower.
The most distinctive piece of information we see is that the App Catalog lists actual downloads, which no other market currently does (see the Chart below). Apple’s App Store listed downloads only for a couple of hours post-launch before they were made unavailable. Android Market provides “buckets” of download ranges which, at the low end are helpful, but at the upper end vary widely (e.g. 50K - 250K, >250K).
For developers, the greatest appeal of working with WebOS has been the promise of a platform that is simple and easy to develop for. With the limited time the select developers have had access to the SDK, the fact that the App Catalog houses two developers (out of 28 total) that each currently offer two apps definitely gives that impression. What appears to be the issue at this point, and one of the major hold ups behind releasing a public SDK, is the App Catalog itself.
Currently in the App Catalog, when a developer updates an app, their release date changes to the date they released the update along with removing all traces of the original date. This allows for any developer to release an update and reposition themselves at the top of the Most Recent category and the top of whatever other categories they belong to when sorting by date. After all the gaming we’ve seen take place in the App Store, this issue, coupled with a lack of payment system in the store itself, are two of the major reasons why the App Catalog isn’t ready to handle the volume of submissions that a public SDK would bring. While releasing the SDK to the public and barring submissions/approval to the store may sound like a smart alternative to some, Palm has clearly thought things through and decided to go with their current selective approach.
The excitement for the Palm Pre has only grown since we first heard word of it. Now, nearly two weeks after launch with the hype winding down, you have to wonder, did Palm miss their window of opportunity with their App Catalog, or do they have something up their sleeve?