Apple vs Palm & 3rd Party Apps
The New York Times has just posted an intriguing article regarding the closed ecosystem of AT&T and Apple’s iPhone. Written by Saul Hansell, the piece attempts to shed some light on the myriad of issues surrounding the notoriously closed environment fostered by both Apple’s and their sole domestic provider of choice, AT&T Wireless (formerly Cingular).
Palm's Mark Bercow, the senior vice president of business development is quoted several times within the article on his role of chief evangelist of the Palm OS to the software development community. In short, Mr. Bercow states that the industry trend is heading towards openness of platforms and standards, something which stands in distinct contrast to the ironclad grip that both Apple and AT&T wield over nearly every aspect of the much-ballyhooed yet much-maligned iPhone.
For the most part, Palm has long enjoyed a positive relationship with their 3rd party developers, often touting the Palm OS’s strength of “thousands” of available software applications. For the time being, it would seem to behoove Palm to continue to play on the openness of its OS and the huge installed base of applications. Of course, doing so would place even greater importance on maintaining some sort of backwards compatibility layer in Palm’s future Linux-based “Palm OS II”.
Mr. Bercow does not make any statements one way or another regarding Palm's future OS plans, short of discussing Palm's rather lenient rules regarding 3rd party development. Interestingly enough, no mention is made within the article that the actual Garnet OS code employed by Palm on much of its Treo line is actually owned by Japan’s Access Software and licensed to Palm Inc. under terms of a perpetual licensing agreement.
Another interesting figure revealed in Hansell’s article is the statistic given by Palm that 2/3 of Treo owners purchased at least one third-party application. Then, quite surprisingly, Palm claims that ten percent of those users own ten or more third-party applications. It would be quite interesting to see any available data on what percentage of those Treo owners have decided to pay for full-featured or upgrade versions of the software Palm bundles with their devices. For example, most recent Palm Treos have shipped with some version of Dataviz’s Documents To Go v8.x, despite the fact that v10.001 is the most recent version of that application.
One facet behind Apple’s fierce control over the iPhone’s available applications can possibly be found in Palm’s recent past. The fragmented nature of the Palm OS developer community, combined with historically difficult relationships between smaller software developers and Palm/PalmSource have led to, at best, numerous instances of “broken” applications from one device to another. At worst, many developers have chosen to cancel or scale back all Palm OS development, due in some part to the various tinkering performed to the OS 5.x kernel by Palm over the past five years.
In a recent example, only Palm’s new $99 Centro ships with Normsoft’s Pocket Tunes 4 Deluxe, a $37.95 add-on for any other Palm device. All of Palm’s other Treos and PDAs bearing higher MSRPs than the Centro ship with only Pocket Tunes 3.x Basic, RealPlayer, or no MP3 functionality at all. This increased emphasis on bundled software is a win-win situation for Palm’s users but the increased out-of-the-box functionality might irk certain Palm 3rd party developers, somewhat mirroring the European Union’s protests against Microsoft’s pre-installed Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player on Windows-based PCs. While the NYT article does not offer any speculation or possible conclusions, Apple could be trying to intentionally avoid a similar situation, at least during the iPhone’s initial year on the market.