Blackberry and Palm Apps Getting Better, but Not Fast Enough

Even as Apple celebrates the release of its 100,000th app—and that cash machine it calls the app store—Palm and RIM are running fast to catch up, and woo developers to their platforms. Earlier this week, Palm introduced a Web-based development environment in an effort to lure creative code monkeys, while RIM added a few crucial new technologies that developers will be able to show off at the first Blackberry app developer conference.

Palm Pre

PALM ARES

Dubbed "Ares," the new site packs features such as a drag-and-drop interface (similar to Apple's development environment), which should make designing and testing Javascript apps easier. It's aimed at pro coders, though, and Web developers who want to transition to coding for Palm devices. After testing and prototyping in Ares, developers will be able to package the app and download it to a phone for testing, or submit it for entry into Palm's app store.

Some app developers have been frustrated by Palm's disorganized app approval process and have defected to off-brand Palm app stores like PreCentral that allow users to download "homebrew" apps. Others, such as open source guru Jamie Zawinkski have unceremonious dumped their Palms. That's led to a dearth of new apps for the device. Both Palm and Google Android rely on Javascript for their applications—Javascript is one of the most commonly-known programming languages. But while the Android Market boasts over 12,000 apps to date, Palm's app catalog hovers around only a few hundred programs, many of them incredibly lame. Hopefully that will change with Ares.

Blackberry Apps

BLACKBERRY APP WORLD

On Monday, RIM announced that it will finally open its famously robust email and alert servers to third-party apps, allowing other developers to use the Blackberry "push" notifications. That means that new apps will be able to stream data like sports scores or stock quotes without the app having to go out and search for updates on a server. RIM has touted its push system as more bandwidth-efficient and battery-friendly than those offered by its competitors.

Opening up push is just the start of a new developer-friendly set of policies as the company aggressively courts app makers. RIM also announced new developer tools to streamline the notoriously difficult app-writing process. The tools will support 3-D graphical development for games, which are the most popular downloads in Apple's app store. Although Blackberrys don't have the robust graphical capabilities of the iPhone, this move ought to stimulate app sales.

Blackberry

Lastly, RIM said it would be making it easier for app-makers to include advertisements in their apps, which should bring more financial incentive to Blackberry development. The Canadian phone-maker is also enabling in-app purchasing, which will help draw game developers.

Yet none of these improvements address the major flaw of the Blackberry App World: its reliance on 3G downloads for installing apps. On the iPhone, Apple allows you to download any app under 10MB over AT&T's network—a reasonable limit. But fewer and fewer iPhone apps meet that criteria. That's because they're reaching a level of such graphical and data-intensive richness that they're routinely ballooning to 120MB or more.

On Blackberrys, by contrast, a 2MB app is considered massive—and with these new RIM tools, app size is about to grow up fast. Staying under 10 or 15MB, the practical limit for 3G downloads, doesn't leave much room for space-hungry game developers or map-makers to work with.

Still, RIM could make provisions for big apps later. Its newfound love for its developers is certainly a boon for its platform, but it may be too little and too late.

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  • Thom Mitchell

    When the iPhone was released Blackberry had the advantage in both volume and buzz, now the iPhone has the advantage in productivity applications and buzz, while Blackberry's growth is tapering. Palm of course is withering on the vine - the Ares site following the release of the Pre is simply a case of too little, too late. It'll be interesting to see how Andriod does over time, especially once Verizon gets the iPhone next year.

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    Thom Mitchell
    http://www.ThomMitchell.com