webOS Needs a Developer Phone
Over the weekend, numerous press reports (such as this one from sister-site Android Central) have been brewing about the "Google Phone." Whether Google intends to brand and market it to the public is still an open question, but what one thing that does appear to be settled is that the phone is meant to be a developer phone, as happened with versions of the G1 and Magic before it. All the buzz reminded us at PreCentral that we haven't said this stridently enough yet: Palm needs to release a webOS developer phone sooner rather than later.
Whatever the price for the device (and without a carrier subsidy, it could be significantly higher than those of the Pre, Pixi and even other Android devices), being able to purchase it as a standalone unit, without being tied to a carrier, will help developers explore and expand its capabilities. Consider how many of the major homebrew and App Catalog webOS developers have had difficulty getting actual Pres (rather than emulators) of their own, like PreCentral's own Jason Robitaille in Canada, webOS Internal's Rod Whitby in Australia, and Dr. Alan (PalmDoc) Teh in Malaysia to name a few. While they have still produced stellar webOS applications using the SDK and emulators, they have often not been able to test the user experience directly until long after their apps hit PreCentral or the App Catalog.
While Palm cannot compete with Google's marketing power or economic resources, it could substantially boost developer interest and creativity and its own market share by following Google's lead and releasing an unlocked, carrier-neutral webOS smartphone. The expected price differential would reduce or eliminate any likely cannibalization of its consumer market, even while small and large developers throughout the world could create, test and show their applications. (As an added bonus, the developer model could be marketed as well to frequent world travelers, who could maintain their environments and be productive no matter where they landed by simply switching out SIMs.)
One thing is clear: Palm will not gain significant share of the smartphone market by remaining conservative. That was what it did for years with the PalmOS, and it came close to liquidation as a result. Instead, it should pursue both technological and business innovations like a developer-centered webOS device to both establish loyalty and gain media and investor attention.