The webOS 2.0 developer opportunity: genuinely unique apps | webOS Nation

The webOS 2.0 developer opportunity: genuinely unique apps

by Tim Stiffler-Dean Fri, 17 Sep 2010 1:40 pm EDT

Ed. Note: Give a warm welcome to Tim Stiffler-Dean , aka @anotherguy!

There are a lot of new features in webOS 2.0, enough that it could raise a concern for some developers. With Android and iOS, there's an app for that. With webOS, it's already built in.

At least, that's the sentiment that a lot of people have now that we've seen some webOS 2.0 leaks. WebOS is getting a lot of attention from H/Palm to bake some great features right into the next device, but is Palm actually leaving developers out in the cold? Should developers be pumped?

If those leaked screenshots are in fact real, then apps like Dropboxify and patches like Add/Remove Launcher Pages could be abandoned for features that are built right in the operating system or the new apps we've seen. There could be a concern that third-party apps and developers are being asked to work on other niche-focused projects (with Palm taking all of the big tools for themselves, what's left but smaller community tools?).

No doubt, some people are not going to be happy about this. I can hear dozens of developers already complaining already about how so much development opportunity is lost with all of the new official features that are being added, but can we really blame Palm for doing this?

Not really. One of the struggles that Palm has had over the last year is that there have been too few developers getting into their platform to develop those great apps that are missing from the stock feature-set. The SDK Hot Apps competition was a success, for sure, but you would be hard-pressed to say the same about the PDK version.

It's also been hard to woo developers to the platform because so much of the general population couldn't care less about webOS or Palm devices. Without a large monetary incentive and the promise of a lot of potential traffic, business-minded developers don't really care too much to bring their applications over to our beloved operating system, and new developers are still in awe that the 'amazing' iOS and Android platforms are even available for them to work on.

Basically, and this is no news to anyone, bringing developers in to actually create high-quality apps is an up-hill battle that (until now) Palm has been losing. So, what's the next option?

First, let's take a step back and see what Palm is really doing here. They aren't simply creating a system that is attractive to everyone (which would bring in more customers and inevitably more developers as well). They are engineering an ecosystem that encourages community management and organization.

Just look at the features that they've already publicly announced: Stacks will allow users to separate different parts of their lives and get a better handle on the tasks that are most important while also leaving those side-projects or hobby related apps running in your other stacks in the background.

Enhanced Synergy will not only allow developers to create applications that directly access the data in your already synced profiles, but it will also allow other services to be synced with your phone. Now your Yammer contacts for work, your local community theatre's twitter 'friends', that BatchBook account you're using for a secret side-project, the connections you've made on and even the people you've met on your city's customer social network will all be synced with your device for easy access.

It's not just about making your life mobile, it's also about keeping you connected with your communities separately and efficiently, all from one device (or a few - smartphone, printer, tablet, etc....)

But what does all of this have to do with third-parties being overlooked in favor of the official apps? Well, when you consider this idea that webOS is being created as a way to more intimately connect niche-communities, it makes perfect sense.

Palm doesn't just want developers for everyone, they want them to develop high-quality applications for communities that they are already excited about and involved with. This actually does a lot to improve the chances of developers not only making more money, but also having more fun with the projects they're working on. More small businesses (the real innovators) will become interested in custom app development to complement the major features that have already been built in, and they'll look to developers to create the best app experience possible. More communities and organizations will do the same to hook their people into an eco-system that respects what they are doing and gives them the freedom to do it well.

But let's take a step back. What if none of those statements are even true? After all, innovation requires us to change the way that we are thinking, and if webOS 2.0 is as amazing as everyone is claiming it to be, then I think it would be safe to say that it's going to be innovative.

Rather than saying that Palm is pushing away developers, maybe they're just trying to get us to think differently (ahem). You don't need to build a basic dropbox app, but you do need to build an app that integrates with contacts (using enhanced synergy) for quick sharing of files. You don't need to build a Skype app (maybe), but you could build an app that lets you do a live podcast through UStream (because video calls through Skype obviously means live streaming APIs will be available - if only for homebrew).

Or maybe when you see how intuitive Stacks are, you'll get a whole new idea on how to integrate something else into the system. The point is, Palm is not limiting developers at all by baking these features into the OS from the start. Rather they are opening the doors to let us build things that we hadn't even thought about before.

This isn't a simple cheerleading post, we're beyond that now. What it is is an attempt to show that webOS 2.0 is not just about creating a new operating system or beating the competition in this game.

It's about changing the game; something that Palm was great at in the beginning, and what they'll be amazing at again once this all goes down next year. What it comes down to is this: while some developers are crying out that Palm is neglecting them by creating official apps that will put their's out of action, I have already heard many others singing in praise that Palm has opened doors that they didn't even know existed before.

If that's not innovative, I don't know what is.