Palm opens WebOS developer program to the public and adds plug-in support

The smartphone maker is looking to close the applications gap with Apple's iPhone

Palm opened up its WebOS developer program to the public on Thursday, saying it expects to see a flood of new applications developed for the mobile OS.

"We look forward to some incredible growth in our application catalog this year," said Katie Mitic, Palm's senior vice president of product marketing, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

[ Palm first announced the developer program and detailed the revenue split in October of last year. | Stay up on tech news and reviews from your smartphone at infoworldmobile.com. | Get the best iPhone apps for pros with our business iPhone apps finder. | See which smartphone is right for you in our mobile "deathmatch" calculator. ]

Palm released the software development kit for WebOS last year and opened the platform up to a limited number of developers last August. Since then, about 1,000 applications have been developed for the OS, which powers Palm's Pre and Pixi handsets.

The number of applications available for WebOS is much smaller than for the iPhone or Google's Android OS. To close this gap, Palm will also open up its application distribution channel to developers and Web sites, giving them access to detailed information about applications and statistics, such as the number of downloads. This will allow them to build their own application directories and application ranking mechanisms, Mitic said.

"If you can imagine it, we're going to give you the tools and access to develop it," Mitic said.

To that end, Palm developed a sample application directory, called Project Appetite, that developers can use to build their own stores under an open-source license. The site allows users to search for WebOS applications and then have those applications installed directly onto their handsets, and Palm hopes that developers will use the site to build their own catalogs.

As an incentive to developers interested in building their own directories, Palm is offering $1 million to the developer with the most downloads of free and paid applications between February and May, Mitic said.

Palm also announced a plug-in development kit for WebOS that allows developers to extend the OS's capabilities using code written in C and C++. Over time, these plug-ins will be incorporated into the software development kit, she said.

The plug-in development kit will be released at the Game Developers Conference in March, but a handful of game developers have already put the kit to use.

EA Mobile, Laminar Research, Gameloft and Glu all released games that were developed using plug-ins. Those games include 3D titles, such as EA Mobile Need for Speed Undercover, and are now available.

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