Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOTALLY PALMED INTERVIEW: Does Developing for the Palm Pre Really Suck?

If you've been following any of the daily Palm Pre gossip, you may have caught wind of a brewing controversy surrounding a certain developer named Jamie Zawinksi (jwz).  Mr. Zawinksi has an accomplished history as a developer, and was one of the first on the homebrew scene developing a tip calculator and a Dali (morphing) clock for Palm Pre's webOS.  (I personally used his tip calculator and liked it.)  But suddenly, things turned sour... he had become so upset for some reason that he announced on his blog that he would no longer develop for Palm's webOS.   Wow! Where did all this come from?  You can read his blog here.

So I got curious. Are other developers having these same misgivings? I went right to the source and struck up an IM chat with a webOS developer, Jordan Gensler (kesne).  Mr. Gensler is the founder of Keen Studios, an upstart software development group.  After the break, see what he had to say about the whole situation...

TOTALLY PALMED: When did you start developing for webOS?
GENSLER:  I started developing webOS basically when the SDK was released. I downloaded the SDK the day it came out and hopped on the development boat.  I had plans to develop for it ever since I heard of its launch.

TP: Is there anything about webOS that's appealing to you as a program developer?
GENSLER: Well, a few things, but most of all?  No new languages. I love the idea of using web coding for everything. It really speeds up development. Because I already knew these languages, I thought developing on it would be perfect.

TP:  Have you developed on any other platforms in the past?
GENSLER Oh, sure. I've developed web applications and websites.  I've also developed applications for windows.

TP: Recently, a controversy has erupted concerning submission of apps to Palm by Jamie Zawinksi. He had several key complaints that he said have led him to seek other platforms for development. First, let me ask you: what's been your overall experience developing for webOS?
GENSLER:  Getting my webOS app developed and approved for submission was great. Working with Palm has been a totally easy and seamless process. Of course, they ask you to change things, but within reason. I won't go into detail about it so as not to jeopardize my disclosure agreements...  but basically their aim is keeping all the the apps in webOS consistent.  If every app navigates the same way, the user experence is way better.

TP: Mr. Zawinksi's biggest problems were: 1) with Palm's indication that they want to be the "primary gatekeepers" of app submissions (ala Apple)...  which could fly in the face of homebrew? Who knows?  2) That developers are required to have a verified PayPal account to develop for them and 3) That developers are charged $99 charge to develop for Palm.  Your thoughts on these?
GENSLER:  As Precentral has indicated in their article about this, the $99 charge is becoming the industry standard.

TP:  Really? I did not know this...
GENSLER: Oh, yeah. Apple has the exact same fees, and Microsoft imposes similar fees...  even for free apps.

TP: But isn't Mr. Zawinski right to be upset about a fee when he merely wanted to submit FREE apps? Why should he have to pay?
GENSLER:  It may sound funny, but it actually makes sense.  Say you develop an app for webOS - a free app. But there is a bug in it...  a big one that causes the webOS phone to stop accepting phone calls.  Palm can do one of two things: tell the developer to fix it, or just plain pull it.  The $99 fee is, if you will, insurance. It keeps the developer from ditching the app.  Make sense?

TP: Okay that's all well and good, but another thing that I've heard about is Palm's response times with developers. What's been your experience?
GENSLER:  In my experience, Palm has been nothing but prompt with responses to my inquiries.  Not only that, but their responses are usually full of constructive criticism and information.

TP:  No canned responses, etc?
GENSLER:  None whatsoever.  Everything really feels individualized and personal.  I've never come across an instance where Palm hasnt answered my questions to my satisfaction.

TP:  Do you know any other webOS developers? What has been their opinion on submitting apps to Palm?
GENSLER: I'm in contact with many developers, all report similar experiences as mine.

TP: Do you know any developers on other platforms? If so which ones and what has been their experience?
GENSLER:  I know some iPhone developers. They're mostly satisfied. Their main complaint centers around Apple's submission process.  They describe it as "uptight" and "very impersonal." 

TP:  Do you happen to know Jamie Zawinksi?
GENSLER: I do not, nor have I ever conversed with him online.

TP: Any opinions on his stance?
GENSLER: Well, I sort of understand his dislike for the PayPal requirement. Palm could offer a few more options there.  But my main misgivings about this whole spectacle is that Mr. Zawinksi is in effect misrepresenting the webOS developer community as a whole. The vast majority of webOS developers are actually very happy and enthusiastic moving forward.

TP:  Do you plan on developing more apps for webOS? Care to plug any current projects? 
GENSLER:  Sure!  I can tell you a few things are in the pipeline.  Checkers Pro, of course, but past that, a series of games called Wellow and Chess are coming.

TP: What future do you see for webOS?
GENSLER:  I see a very bright future for webOS.  The platform has such great potential, and is backed by a great company.

TP: Do you own a Palm Pre? What do you think of it so far?
GENSLER: I own a Palm Pre, yes. Love it. I've been answering your questions from my Pre pretty much this whole time.

*     *     *     *     *

Palm has since released a response to Mr. Zawinksi's rant:

We’ve seen some folks assert that Jamie’s case indicates a general pattern at Palm that we don’t really care about developers and aren’t operating in a developer-friendly manner. While we undoubtedly have some work to do here, we hope that people do notice how we treat the “homebrew” community (e.g. PreCentral) and how our current SDK agreement calls out the inspectability and reusability of our own Palm applications. (By the way, several applications from the homebrew community have already made it into our App Catalog.)
While we have yet to finalize and announce our developer program, we hope these points demonstrate our general attitude of embracing developers and empowering them. We’re trying to strike the right balance between locking down our device and making it a free-for-all. Like all great things, this will be an iterative process and we are eager and open to your participation and input to make it better for everyone.

In closing, decide for yourself.  Me personally? I think Mr. Zawinksi needs to have a Coke and a smile and relax.  If he'd rather program for the vultures over in Cupertino, then he's more than welcome to do so.  Good riddance.  (Oh and BTW? I'm using a new tip calculator as we speak.)


  1. Sorry, so don't care what that guy thinks or doesn't think of Palm or the Pre. I want to know WHEN ARE WE GETTING HOTSYNC BACK? And I I want to be able to forward my textes & change that ringtone!

    GIVE ME AN APP FOR THAT WOULD PLEASE.......LIKE NOW!! That classic app one DOESN'T WORK!!!

  2. Umm... Melinda. I certainly hope you have done your research because various ways to sync with your computer via wifi, bluetooth, or even USB have been available for a while now. In addition, you can forward texts with a very simple tweak to your Pre. Go to Gizmodo.com for a great how-to on this.

  3. No accounting for folks who don't read the manual, or at least google before ranting. LOL