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iPhone developer revolt

Charles Wolf, of Needham & Co., recently described the iPhone App Store as a “wasteland of mediocre applications” and that it was taking “its place alongside YouTube, where poor taste is the defining metric.” And now, following Apple’s killing of various Google Voice applications for ‘duplicating features’ of the iPhone (possibly at AT&T’s bidding), developers are beginning to question the logic of developing applications for the iPhone platform. Even Michael Arrington, noted lover of all things Apple, and editor of TechCrunch, is dumping his iPhone (and would have picked up a Pre if there was a webOS Google Voice app, somebody tell that guy about Homebrew!).

Mr. Rubinstein, I sincerely hope you’re watching what’s going on here as Palm moves towards finalizing its own App Catalog. While Apple may have led the way into a place we didn’t know we needed to go (the land of the application store), they’ve since gotten lost and wandered into an ever-darkening corner. Palm, we’ve got some helpful pointers, some of which you're doing, some we want to make sure you do.

1) Keep it simple

In its current state, the Palm App Catalog isn’t terribly hard to use, and that’s a good thing. From an easy search system to the use of tags (and the tag cloud), the App Catalog is a breeze. Apple’s own App Store is also quite simple, but lacking in some of the richer features (like tag searches). Now, don’t keep it too simple, we all know the App Catalog is in need of some polish (as that persistent Beta tag indicates).

Speaking of simple - Implement an easy pay system, preferably with options like a credit card with your Palm Profile or PayPal or something else delightfully simple.  The opposite of simple: carrier involvement in the payment system.  Having apps just billed to the carrier account might seem simple, but looks can be deceiving.  Keep my cell phone bill predictable and keep carriers out of the chain on the App Store.

2) Keep it fresh

Once you start publishing more applications (*ahem*), make an effort to keep things fresh in the App Catalog and cycle new apps through the Featured row regularly. We don’t want the App Catalog to turn into a 99-cent wasteland like the iPhone App Store. And don’t be afraid to encourage developers to charge more for quality apps. I think we’d all agree that we’d rather have an App Catalog with low volume but high quality apps than one with a zillion programs, 99% of which are next to worthless. And for whatever-you-find-holy’s sake, please don’t trumpet your App Catalog numbers. While Apple has every right to shout from the hilltops that they’ve got 65,000 apps with 1.5 billion downloads, it’s just not right for a company that’s supposedly focused on quality products, not numbers.

3) Talk to your developers

A good part of the developer uproar accompanying the App Store is the lack of communication between Apple and iPhone developers. Understandably, when you have hundreds off new applications submitted every day, it can be a bit daunting to have a discussion with every single programmer, but when you have reason to deny an application admittance to the catalog, give a defined reason why. If you don't have a good reason to reject an app -- don't reject it.

4) Set developer standards

This goes hand-in-hand with the above point of developer communications: let them know what the rules are, and make sure they’re applied equally to all. With the exception of Classic (since you asked MotionApps to make it), we aren't sure we like the thought that a developer should be granted special privileges or access or a waiver from a certain rule. If there’s a reason for the rule to be waived in certain instances, the case will be made to not have the rule, so just kill it. And be explicit in your rules: do things like define what “offensive” or “pornographic” means to Palm.

5) Don’t bend to the carrier(s)

Right now, Sprint may be the only wireless carrier with a webOS device on its airwaves, but in a few months that will all start to change. Don’t make the mistake that Apple has made and bend to the carrier’s will. Pulling programs like Google Voice has nothing to do with duplicating iPhone functionality. We all suspect that AT&T was behind the cancellation, fearing the loss of their long distance, international, and text messaging revenue. From here on out every carrier is going to try and impose their demands on webOS and the App Catalog; that cannot be allowed. We would never tolerate our internet provider telling us what we can and cannot download. The same should apply to cellular carriers: they are the conduit between the world and our phone, not the gatekeeper.

6) Stay open

webOS is built on a beautiful Linux core with tasteful dressing in CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. We know it, the world knows it, and our enterprising homebrewers even know how to work with it. Keep the platform as open as it can be and open up as much as you can. The more developers can work with, the richer applications will be built, and the better served your customers will be. And in the end, happy customers are the kind you want, because they’re the ones that will give you more money.

When the time comes, open up even more by providing lower-level access so developers can move beyond HTML-based apps.

There you have it. Six steps down the path you’re already on, and facing the right direction at that. Apple may have led us to the promised land, but they’ve only reached the shore. Palm, it’s up to you to lead us the rest of the way into App Catalog nirvana.