Palm’s App Store Getting Ready for Lift Off

Palm’s webOS developer program for creating mobile apps will officially open in December — and it’s taking a much different approach than rival Apple does with its App Store for the iPhone.

The program will offer developers a choice of how to get their applications to market — via Palm’s online store or elsewhere on the Web — and what Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) calls “an unparalleled level of transparency” that includes a do-it-yourself certifying option for webOS apps.

“Our program will be unlike anything currently available, and has been established to promote a thriving community by giving developers direct involvement in their own success,” Katie Mitic, senior vice president, product marketing for Palm, said in a statement. “Whether you’re looking for immediate distribution or just feedback on early stages of development, this program is built to scale to your needs and finally put you in control of investing in and promoting your business.”

Following up on the release of the beta app catalog e-commerce program, Palm said today it will open its app distribution program to the entire developer community by the end of the year.

In August, Palm announced that developers who wish to charge for their Palm webOS applications could begin submitting them for consideration in the Palm App Catalog e-commerce beta program, which went live today. Developers selected to participate in the beta program have the opportunity to make their applications — both free and paid — available to consumers.

Under Palm’s revenue model, developers receive a 70 percent split of gross revenues generated through application sales.

How the app ecosystem will work

Palm outlined how it plans to operate its app ecosystem once fully opened in December. The membership-based program will have a $99 annual fee and will offer developers two options for getting their applications to market: distribution on the Web and through the Palm App Catalog.

Palm will provide a sales transaction and fulfillment service for developers who wish to promote their applications online. Every webOS app will receive a unique URL, allowing developers to promote their applications online. Users will be able to download and install the application directly from the cloud to their phone using Palm’s over-the-air process.

This distribution option offers a fast self-certification process as well as the ability for developers to control the distribution and promotion of their applications using the online marketing tactics they already employ.

Distribution in the Palm App Catalog, which comes pre-loaded on all Palm devices, will be subject to review by Palm, and developers will pay a per-application fee of $50.

“This fee covers the lifetime of the app, even though Palm may review many versions of it. Palm will review apps in the order in which they are received and will respond in a timely fashion. Should your app be rejected, Palm will let you know specifically why the app was rejected, and you can revise and resubmit your application,” writes Chuq Von Rospach, developer community manager for Palm at the webOS blog.

Page 2: Higher bids, better placement

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Higher bids, better placement

In addition, Palm said it will offer developers the opportunity to bid for prominent placement of their apps within the App Catalog.

“We have heard feedback that there are too few options for investing in the promotion of applications, and we want to provide developers the ability to invest and grow their business. These promotional opportunities will be open, transparent, and priced by the market through an auction mechanism,” said Von Rospach.

Public feeds of application URLs and other relevant application data — such as reviews, ratings, and stats — will be made available to the community.

Palm expects directories, ranking mechanisms and other inventive services built around this data to emerge.

Also, Palm will waive the $99 program fee for developers interested in distributing open source Palm webOS apps to the Web. If the source of an app is available to the public under one of the commonly accepted licenses, it will be eligible for this program.

Both distribution options include a support program that will provide developers the tools to build, test, distribute and receive feedback on their Palm webOS applications. Developers can control how beta testers access their applications, allowing them to iteratively improve their products and scale to their needs.

The incentives Palm laid out for developers come as the company, once a pioneering leader in the wireless handheld market, pins hopes for a come-back on a thriving webOS ecosystem.

To date, this includes the flagship Pre, launched in June, and its smaller sibling, the Pixi, due out next month, as well as the App Catalog store.

Over the past few years, Palm lost massive market share to Apple and Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) due to its failure to introduce any compelling new handsets and flagging sales of the outdated Centro and Treo.

Palm’s approach, allowing D.I.Y. certification of apps to be sold on the Web, is opposite of Apple, which kicked off a consumer phenomenon when it opened the App Store a bit over a year ago. Currently, the App Store holds an inventory of 85,000 applications and has surpassed 2 billion downloads.

The iPhone maker employs a tightly controlled app approval system, which has come under fire from developers for being inconsistent and confusing, and prompted a federal inquiry by the FCC. Plus, Apple only allows distribution through the App Store.

Leading the effort to revitalize the Palm brand and return the company to profitability is CEO Jon Rubinstein, who was integral in creating the iPod during his stint as an executive at Apple.

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