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Palm fishes for devs with $1m lure

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CES 2010 Palm has - finally - opened up its application development program for webOS to one and all. It will also open its app database to anyone who wants to build a store, extend its SDK's powers with a plug-in kit for C and C++ coders, and prime the development pump with $1m in incentives.

The outing of the developer program was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada on Thursday, "Today, after a six-month closed private beta with some fantastic application partners, we're formally opening our developer program," said Palm's SVP for marketing Katie Mitic.

Any developer - not just the select beta few - is now free to submit their apps to Palm, which will then distribute it in each of the markets in which the Palm Prē and Pixi are now available.

According to Mitic, the Palm platform and developer program have "three distinct advantages" over the competition. She didn't mention that competition specifically, but it's no mystery that one comes from Cupertino and another from Mountain View. Those advantages, she said, are a fast and simple development cycle; the webOS's integrated data, content, and services structures; and - in a not-so-subtle dig at Apple - "freedom and choice in how [developers] take their applications to market."

In Mitic's opinion, Palm is taking "a completely new approach to application distribution" by opening up its database of application information so that any developer, vendor, service provider, or what-have-you can build their own online store, linked to Palm's application-delivery service.

In Mitic's words, "descriptions, ratings, reviews, downloads, stacks, application URLs" will be available to all comers. "We want developers to have as much freedom of choice [as possible] in developing and distributing their applications," she said.

To provide an example of what can be done with this open strategy, Palm developed a basic-but-functional example of such an online distribution scheme, called Project Appetite, along with publishing code samples and feed information about how to access the database.

Palm clearly believes that an open app-distribution scheme will juice both its developer community and its customer base. "We're putting our money where our mouth is," she said, announcing what Palm calls the Hot Apps Program.

Hot Apps will give away a total of $1m to developers of - what else? - the hottest free and paid webOS apps measured by sales from February 1 until May 31. Terms and conditions for the program are - without digging too deeply into the legalese - acceptably generous, and eligible apps can be created either using the webOS SDK or Palm's web-based development environment, Project Ares, which launched as a beta last month.

Mitic also announced Palm's new webOS Plug-in Development Kit, which she affectionately called the PDK." With it, developers can build C and C++ plug-ins for webOS applications. The PDK, Mitic noted, will eventually be integrated into Palm's core webOS SDK.

According to Mitic, the PDK will be of particular interest to developers of 3D games, and therefore Palm will introduce it at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco in March. She also noted that a number of game developers - Laminar Research, GameLoft, EA Mobile, and Glu Mobile - have been in on the PDK development process and that games built by them using the PDK, such as EA Mobile's Need for Speed and Sims 3, are now available for the Palm Prē in the US in the Palm App Catalog.

With just 1,000 apps currently available for webOS, Palm obviously has its work cut out for it before it can even begin to create the application ecosystem that currently exists for its current major competitor, Apple's iPhone. Although they don't need to match the ludicrous 100,000-app morass of gems and garbage that flood Cupertino's App Store, they do need to reach a critical mass - and soon.

"Now developers are going to have everything in their hands to control their destiny," Moitic said. She could also have added: "And Palm's destiny, as well." ®

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