The Palm Pre SDK just can’t compete with the iPhone

Fri, Jul 17, 2009


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.

Palm Pre development is based on common web technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS – but the lack of more powerful development tools might mean that some of the more powerful and impressive iPhone style games and apps won’t find their way onto the Palm Pre anytime soon.

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.

I knew that webOS development was based on HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, but I was hoping there was a way, some way, any way, to tap into advanced hardware features and software technologies. Chief on my list is OpenGL, which is a requirement for serious games. GL even became necessary for some of my simpler apps, like Kaleido and Butterfly Collection, since basic software rendering just isn’t responsive enough for smooth animations at decent speeds. You need to tap into the graphics hardware with OpenGL ES.

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.


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. worldbfree4me Says:

    Sure, the Iphone is the current Corvette ZR1 of smart phones today.And the Palm Pre well,its a Mustang thats still using a non blown V8.But guess what, help is on the way my friend.The current SDK is simply a gap filler to shut the mouths of all the impatient developers wishing for access yesterday.Remember this SDK was launched way ahead of schedule.There will undoubtedly be more releases its just a matter of time. But Palm has to first get an e-commerce app store(akin to iTunes)up to speed first. By the end of the 4th quarter I think you will be happy with the progress of the platform and software as it will have evolved into a very nice handheld device.The Pre is a public beta like the G1 was. The next gen, will deliver in Spades.If you can’t wait, maybe I can suggest an Iphone to you. Just don’t forget the Vaseline, because in the end, ATT will bend you over!

  2. Jason Says:

    I’m sure if you had interviewed the Palm Pre developer, he would have said it was better than the iPhone. The bottom line is this: while the iPhone has superior apps, you’re still stuck dealing with 2 of the worst companies to deal with when it comes to customer relations: Apple and AT&T. You can download iTunes for free on the internet, yet they blocked iTunes synch on the Palm Pre- that right there is exactly like saying “Im taking my toys, and going home!”- well, take them. I’d rather have a quality service provider, and better customer relations, than a phone that I can play more games on. – Also, the Palm Pre comes with better protective covers, so you aren’t as likely to break it if dropped, as you are with the iPhone. I guess that’s Apple’s way of ensuring that each customer has to buy the iPhone 2 or 3 times before they tire of the sensitivity and fragility.

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