Thursday, October 22, 2009

Get out of my fast lane

So this is the place where I will be documenting some of the changes, trial, and tribulations of our work on gDial Pro for webOS by Palm.

First, let me say that you can make incredible things quickly using the webOS toolkit and javascript. I think it was a stroke of genius on Palm's part to choose this as their primary development platform for webOS. I understand that some programs will need more native access to API's and I think eventually Palm will provide that as well as a way to keep most of your code in javascript. Once that is made available, the complaints on what can't be done with javascript will likely end.

The problem with the great speed at which one can develop on webOS is that Palm as a company has so far not been able to keep up with the speed with which apps are developed, changes made to the underlying Linux based OS, and new developments around the web as a whole. If you are going to move to a rapid development platform, then you have to be part of that yourself or else it just frustrates all those driving 60mph around you while you are in the left lane going 30. At least get out of the way if you want to go that slow :)

In some ways they are out of the way at least by allowing homebrew and the hacking/patches that people are distributing already. But that doesn't provide a path to the majority of end users of the device who don't know about homebrew or developer mode or webOS Quick Install. Palm, we need you out of the way to get to these end users. I know there has been an announcement of a fast track way in the future for developers to distribute apps outside of the Palm App Catalog which is a start, but if you are going to let us bypass the catalog, then why not just allow us full access to all the System API's that are right now restricted to Palm apps. Let the end user choose if they want to trust an app to access their contacts or email client or whatever. Be truly open. When I download software for my Mac, I take a calculated risk everytime that the developer doesn't have bad intentions. All you have to provide is a way for the community to rate apps and it will work itself out while not stifling the ability of the apps to surpass what Palm is doing.

Back to the analogy of the cars, Palm is in the slow lane right now with some subpar apps. Lone developers have already solved a lot of these issues in addons, apps, and patches, but they are relegated to superusers only at this time. Palm has people out there doing their work for them for free, but yet they don't take advantage of it or allow their end users to take advantage. With homebrew apps and patches you can have a real super phone that far surpasses what an iPhone provides, but then their is no revenue model for the developer. You have to use the Palm App Catalog for that and the app catalog is just not built for the speed at which top rate developers are creating applications.

My proposals for improvement that should be able to be made quickly on Palm's part:

  1. Provide every developer who has paid the fee access to submit their app to the app catalog and get it pushed immediately to some category marked "Unreviewed-warning could be dangerous". Basically tell users to use these at their own risk as they could be buggy and dangerous, but for the love of god let us get our updates and releases out there immediately to users who are willing to take that calculated risk. I promise the rewards will be a lot better than the issues you will have.
  2. Stop the com.palm restriction for system API's. It doesn't make sense to prevent 3rd party developers from not being able to access contacts, calendars, etc. "Synergy" means everything works together, so if you want the cow, you get the milk. Give us access.
  3. You must release major updates early to developers. gDial Pro was broken by undocumented changes in 1.2. These changes have not been acknowledged or explained even though I have reported them. The developers are more than happy to be beta testers of new versions if it means they can keep their apps working. Everyone else does this. Apple announces new features and then releases beta updates to developers, and then releases to end users.

That's it. These are 3 easy steps to greatly improve the webOS position in the marketplace. There are amazing developers out there creating great apps, but they usually require com.palm access to be amazing. My own app gDial Pro is not so amazing when it can't universal search over all contacts on the Pre in the official App Catalog version.

There are some other changes that need to be made, but they will take more time and I may discuss in future posts. But these 3 items really are simple and should be fairly easy to do from your end in a short amount of time.

Welcome to the new Internet speed, now get out of my fast lane.