Yesterday, Palm finally made the Palm Pre SDK available for all interested app developers. While Palm’s current app store selection is limited to a paltry 28 apps, the wider release of its Mojo SDK is expected to increase that number significantly.
Soon after Palm released the Pre SDK for download, iPhone developer Craig A. Hunter downloaded it and came away feeling a tad underwhelmed with the access he was given to the devices internals.
Sadly, my suspicions were confirmed — there is no way for developers to tap into OpenGL ES using the webOS SDK, despite the fact that the hardware supports it. So that’s a major blow. Then I took a look at the accelerometer capabilities. The accelerometer is desirable for games that use tilt control of course, but is also key to apps based on the equations of motion, like my gMeter (vehicle performance) and greenMeter (eco driving) apps.
Well, strike two — while the webOS SDK allows access to raw accelerometer data, it’s limited to a 4 Hz sampling rate (that’s four samples per second). Applications like gMeter and greenMeter need 50-100 Hz to even be practical, and most games need at least 20 Hz for smooth inputs that won’t lag too far behind typical graphics framerates. A low rate of 4Hz is not usable for dynamic motion where high fidelity is desired. Accelerometer support in the webOS is suitable for detecting basic movement of the phone for interface rotation, but that’s about it…
This wouldn’t be so bad for Palm if we were still in 2007, but in the age of sophisticated iPhone native apps here in 2009, web apps just don’t cut it anymore. With such amazing software capabilities flourishing on the iPhone, Palm can’t afford to wait a year while they make the transition from web apps to native apps in their SDK. Palm might have had a chance against the 2007 Apple SDK, but not the 2009 version. Not even close. With this limitation, webOS will not be taken seriously by consumers who place importance on games or sophisticated third party apps. The iPhone has raised their expectations too high.
As smartphones continue to evolve, the differences in the software and hardware amongst devices will inevitably converge. The iPhone might have a commanding lead for now, but it’s only a matter of time before every smartphone comes equipped with a capacitive touchscreen and easy to use software. When that happens, app stores will be an important differentiating factor between devices. You could even make a strong case today that the app store is what truly separates the iPhone from all other competing devices.
With over 65,000 apps, and an ever improving and powerful SDK, the iTunes App Store will simply get better and better. With palm essentially filling the role of Apple circa 2007, their chance of app store success in 2009 seems doomed right from the start.