A really great post has found its way to reddit from Jamie Zawinski, who’s a big name in developer circles (known as jwz), about his rough ride in trying to get a free tip calculator into the webOS App Catalog. Since I’ve been playing with Bell’s Palm Pre for the last week and trying out homebrew applications, it really caught my eye. Here’s The Short Version of this particular programmer’s complaints, but I encourage you to read the whole thing if you’re packing a Palm Pre or developing on webOS.
- Inability to natively install applications from outside the market
- Requirement of a verified PayPal account and potential fees, even for free apps
- Forfeiting rights to post submitted applications anywhere other than the App Catalog
Let me preface my reply by saying that I’m not a developer, and don’t pretend to fully empathize with their wide-ranging plights and challenges when dealing with manufacturers, carriers, and end-users. However, a lot of this post raised some flags.
If you don’t want to play by Palm’s rules to get into the App Catalog (however reasonable/unreasonable they may be), don’t whine when your only option left is homebrew; making apps “off the grid” is not a bad starting spot for someone learning the webOS platform. Palm is in dire financial traits, and they need to harness their app market in order to stay in business – that entails some level of quality control, dealing with PayPal, code tweaks, and all that jazz that might come off as personal affronts to the more quixotic developers out there. How do you think Elevation Partners would feel if, when asking about third-party software strategy, Palm said “Developers can do whatever the hell they want! Woo, open source!” and cracked open a Bud? Instead, Palm saw what a financially successful player, Apple, was doing right (taking control of the application stream) and doing wrong (making draconian app submission decisions) and built their strategy around that. Sure, it might not be the supposed open-source programming Nirvana found in Maemo 5 or even Android, but it’s a balanced approach that helps everyone win at least a little. If you’re writing free apps and you don’t want to jump through the hoops, homebrew is not that complicated for end users.
There, you’re set. You have a second on-device app store that Palm doesn’t control. Go nuts. Is that really an insurmountable barrier for entry? Will an app really have that many fewer eyeballs on it than if it were in the App Catalog? And if the software is free anyway, why would the creator care?
If developers want to support the webOS ecosystem with a free app, or make a buck with a premium one, they should be ready to make some compromises, including small code changes for the sake of QA. It’s not like Palm is turning into a bunch of Nazis; they aren’t taking shots at the homebrew scene, like Apple does with jailbreakers – in fact, Palm encourages the homebrew scene. The exclusive rights to the code is simply Palm’s way of ensuring the official market remains valuable. Why would anyone use the App Catalog if the homebrew scene had all of the same apps plus others that didn’t make it though the hoops? Sure, end users would get their apps, and devs could do whatever they wanted, but Palm wouldn’t get their cut, which ultimately is bad news for the whole platform and anyone developing on it.
As for the $99 annual developer fee, someone has to handle the submissions; even if your app is free, that someone answering the e-mails has to get paid. If you can’t be bothered to manage a ubiquitous and widely-accepted payment method like PayPal to handle that tiny bit of bureaucracy, then why should they be bothered to look at your submission? The thing that probably set me off most on jwz’s post was the insinuation that Palm was dead because they’re abusing webOS developers like a bunch of naughty puppies. First off, the phone has been out three months, and as I’m sure you can imagine, it takes a lot of manpower to make an app store ready for primetime – calling the time of death at this point is ridiculous. Secondly, this is the harshest amount of discontent I’ve heard from a webOS developer so far, and I’m tempted to think the majority are still willing to stick with Palm through the official App Catalog launch. Let’s hear from other developers who have tried their hand at the submission process, and see who has been satisfied (or at least understanding), and who has been pushed to another mobile platform. Feel free to comment with your own personal experiences.