Palm Pre readies app store e-commerce beta test

Palm Inc. is about to launch a beta test of an online system for selling and buying webOS applications. That means the "end of free" for Palm Pre users.

So far, the limited number of webOS applications on the Palm App Catalog, which is still in beta, are free downloads. The planned e-commerce capability for the catalog is essential for creating an incentive for developers to write software for the webOS platform. Users will be able to use credit cards for application purchases, according to Palm.

Slideshow: From Palm Pilot to Palm Pre: a brief history

The handset maker Tuesday invited developers to apply for the beta test via e-mail, submitting a description of the application, price tag and other details along with the application itself in a .ipk file attachment.

Palm will consider whether to include them in the e-commerce beta test, due to start in mid-September. Later this year, the payment capability will be opened to all developers, according to Palm's blog.

The blog post gives details about how to submit applications via e-mail for consideration.

The dearth of official webOS applications, and the spark of user innovation, has led to a rising tide of "homebrew" or unauthorized applications, which can be loaded on the Pre by a couple of techniques. Initially, hackers found a way to load an application via an e-mail attachment without needing root access to the operating system. But Palm closed that option with the webOS 1.04 release.

Many of the homebrew applications are utilities and simple games. PreCentral.net has both homebrew forums for the Pre and a new homebrew application gallery.

During the upcoming App Catalog e-commerce beta test, software writers initially will be able to charge a one-time fee for their application to Palm users in the United States., who can pay by credit card and then download the application. No mention was made whether the beta or final versions will support online micropayments via such services as PayPal. The developers will keep 70% of all revenues, less any applicable sales tax.

The blog post lists some of the evaluation criteria Palm will apply to software submitted for the beta release: the application should be "useful and engaging to users;" the UI must have an "appealing design" and conform to Palm's guidelines; the applications must be native webOS programs, not browser-based, and leverage key features of the platform, such as multitasking and background operation, location services and so on. Finally, Palm will give preference this time for applications with good performance and minimal drain on the smartphone's battery.

This story, "Palm Pre readies app store e-commerce beta test" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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