Palm unwraps developer program, but some remain unimpressed

LAS VEGAS--Palm took the wraps off its developer program, and announced several new developer initiatives aimed at generating interest in the company's webOS platform. However, at least one major mobile services company--VoIP calling company Skype--plans to wait on the sidelines until Palm's offerings to catch fire with consumers.

Palm's Katie MiticDuring a wide-ranging press conference here on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show here, Palm said its webOS developer program is now "open for business." Previously the company had only been working directly with a select group of developers. Palm also announced a new distribution deal with wireless heavyweight Verizon Wireless, as well as upgraded versions of its Pre and Pixi devices. (See related story here.)

"We look forward to working with you (developers)," said Katie Mitic, Palm's senior vice president of products, in announcing the company's developer efforts. She said Palm's App Catalog currently holds around 1,000 apps (whereas market leader Apple counts fully 100,000 apps in its own digital storefront) but Mitic said Palm "expects that to grow even more, and faster."

Palm's developer program splits app revenues 70/30 (developer/Palm), after applicable taxes. The membership-based program has a $99 annual fee, which the company said will be waived for developers who opt to distribute open source Palm webOS apps on the Web.

During the company's press conference, Mitic highlighted a number of Palm efforts aimed at exciting developers to its smartphone platform. Specifically, she detailed Palm's new $1 million Hot Apps bonus program, which will run Feb. 1 through May 31. The program will award $1 million to the most successful applications distributed during this timeframe. The developers of the top free and paid applications each will earn a $100,000 bonus; in addition, 40 developers will receive $10,000 (20 each for free and paid), with 400 developers awarded $1,000 (200 each for free and paid).

Separately, Mitic hyped the company's webOS Plug-in Development Kit, which she said enables new functionality such as 3D games. Indeed, EA Mobile showed off 3D versions of its "Sims 3" and "Need For Speed" games running on the Pre.

Finally, Mitic said Palm will open up its database of webOS applications data, thereby allowing third parties to access app descriptions, ratings, stats and screen shots. The goal, Mitic said, was to allow app developers the freedom to promote and distribute their apps as they see fit.

"We give developers freedom and choice with how they take their applications to market," she said, a possible knock at iPhone maker Apple, which has come under fire for its tight control over its iTunes App Store. "We're taking a completely new approach to application distribution. ... That's better for everyone."

Despite Palm's efforts to tout its webOS platform--which is first announced a year ago at the 2009 CES show here--a few major players in the industry remain unmoved. Christopher Dean, chief strategy officer for Skype, said webOS is the only major smartphone platform that Skype does not yet plan to support. Dean said webOS does not have enough momentum behind it to make it worthwhile for Skype to invest in the platform.

For more:
- see Palm's announcement

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