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.


  1. Good post, and I' a big fan that uses gDial Pro daily. Keep up the good writing and coding.

  2. Excellent post. Keep up the great work. Let's hope Palm is listening.

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  4. Great post! I don't have much use for Google voice currently but I have played with it a little and gDial Pro was my app of choice to play with it.

    Anyways... I think that webOS developement may have exploded a lot faster than Palm was expecting it to. I think they simply don't have the capacity to handle it at the moment.

    Now yes they need to get on the ball and start doing some things, for example your unverified idea that would be great! But the issue is that Palm needs to be very careful here this platform, webOS, is their last hope. Yes it is a pretty big success so far but if they did start allowing for apps to be allowed in the app catalog without be verified that opens a HUGE security hole. Yes, most of us, us being the superusers you refer to, know to be careful but to make that available to the average user? They don't care, they don't know what it means if an app isn't verified. If someone wanted to they could post a very malicious app and if average people download it it could cause MASSIVE bad press for webOS and Palm itself.

    So I guess what I am saying is that yes it would help us, it would be great, and definitely awesome for developers but I can definitely understand Palm's point of view here, they aren't going to risk their entire company to satisfy a small portion of their customers, and developers.

    I really think Palmn is just trying to take it slow right now and make sure they don't have any big screw ups or really bad press that makes it to the general population. With the position Palm is in at the moment, trying to stay alive and relaunch their company, if they did have a big screw up it could destroy their reputation and put them out of business.

    So yes, I would love all of these things you mentioned in here too but if you look at it from Palm's point of view it makes sense why hey are doing it how they are doing it.

  5. I understand they don't want to make a mistake, but they already are. Even with their approval process, broken apps are making it into the marketplace.

    -Splash ID released a version that was DOA
    -FriendsFlow released and didn't work
    -Trapster released and pulled
    -dkGoogleVoice released and broken
    -gDial Pro released and then they broke it with webOS 1.2

    Consumers are already seeing a bad experience of broken apps that they want to use. The authors of most of these apps could have had them fixed and rereleased within 24 hours, but it doesn't work that way with the Palm App Catalog. They leave your app out there broken for a couple of weeks until they get around to reviewing it. This creates upset customers with the developer when they aren't the problem.

    Shoot even if they had a process where after your first review, updates could be posted immediately it would be better than the current process.

    Computer users are trusted to download any software they want and could screw their computer up at any time, but that is the open ecosystem of success for computers. Remember Microsoft won a long time ago by creating an open OS that worked on any PC and allowed anyone to write software for. Palm can follow the same strategy now and take major market share.

  6. I love my Pre, and I love gDial pro. Thank you to all involved in bringing these to the market place.

    I am glad Palm is taking a conservative, albeit not perfect, approach. I guess it's like being content to be in the 'slow lane' on a really good and safe highway.