Some Thoughts on Palm's CES 2010 Announcement – Palm Pre Games are Here, and a Brilliant Developer Strategy

Palm’s CES announcement was short but sweet, full of all kinds of chocolaty goodness for smartphone junkies looking for a sugar rush. Terrible metaphor aside, this announcement was in many ways as important as last year’s, when the Pre and WebOS were originally announced and Palm started out on its road to recovery.

It would be easy to be so enamored with the games that Palm revealed that one might miss the most important point–Palm has released a developer program that offers the most flexibility in both application development and distribution. There’s Mojo and Ares for the “casual” developer and/or for quick and consistent development, and then there’s support for C/C++ via the Plug-In Development Kit (PDK) that offers access to the hundreds of thousands of apps written in those languages, better performance, and deeper hardware access. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Palm released the 3D games to highlight the PDK, not the other way around, and it was a brilliant move.

In addition, developers can publish apps into the App Catalog for greatest exposure, subject to Palm’s review and approval, or they can easily and quickly publish their apps on the Web in any fashion they choose using a URL provided by Palm–and without review. While it’s not likely that too many developers have avoided the iPhone/iPod ecosystem because of Apple’s dictatorial approach–the market’s simply too big to ignore–there’s certainly new impetus for them to develop for WebOS.

In short, Palm has taken the best about Apple’s program, namely an SDK that provides great performance and native hardware access, and gotten rid of the worst, namely an arduous and seemly capricious review and approval process. Developers have a level of choice that appears unprecedented, and if Palm can manage to sell enough units to make the platform even marginally attractive financially, developers should find it so much easier to develop apps that Apple’s sheer numbers become less important.

The other major news revealed during CES, that WebOS devices will be on both Verizon and AT&T, should help Palm build such a market. I have no idea what the critical mass is that will induce enough major developers to port to WebOS, but if Palm can’t achieve it by being on the top three US carriers then there’s likely simply no hope for Palm’s long-term survival. We’ll find out how strongly Verizon and AT&T promote WebOS devices, which will likely determine Palm’s success.

Other CES news included:

  • Pre Plus and Pixi Plus: Verizon will have an exclusive on a pair of updated Pre and Pixi handsets. The Pre Plus will sport 16GB of storage, double the internal memory, and some industrial design changes such as a revamped slider, no center button, and a more Pixi-like keyboard. The Pixi Plus will add wifi to the Pixi’s standard configuration.
  • WebOS 1.4: The next WebOS update will release in February, and will include a number of important capabilities in addition to speed and battery life improvements.
  • Flash 10.1: A Flash beta plug-in was announced, to be offered in the app catalog “soon.” Flash will also be included with Web OS 1.4.
  • Video recording: All WebOS 1.4 devices will include video recording, editing, and sharing, thus mollifying those who consider this a vital application for a smartphone.
  • 3D Gaming: Palm released a number of outstanding 3D games for the Palm Pre/Pre Plus, including Need for Speed by Electronic Arts. These games demonstrated the power of the platform along with the ease of porting applications via the PDK.
  • Application Feeds: Palm has released application and RSS feeds for all WebOS apps, including those in the App Catalog, Web releases, and even beta releases (also new). An example of a site utilizing those feeds is Palm’s own Project Appetite, and the RSS feeds can be plugged into any RSS reader for updates on new apps.
  • SFR: Palm will be releasing devices on the French carrier SFR, gaining access to 20 million French subscribers.

Palm has not only largely caught up with the iPhone and Android in features, but far surpassed both in terms of the ease of developing and distributing applications. With more carriers at home and abroad, Palm is now positioned for serious success in 2010. Let us know what you think about Palm’s chances in the comments below.

Update: Edited to correct/clarify info on application/RSS feeds.

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