The Palm Pre might have a slick OS and stylish hardware, but when it comes to apps, it has a long road ahead of it. The Apple iPhone OS has the largest (more than 35,000 apps now) and most comprehensive native app store of any mobile operating system. And if Palm wants WebOS and the Pre to challenge Apple's smartphone juggernaut, it's going to have to step up its apps game. But Palm's App Catalog shows a lot of promise: Its design makes navigating and shopping for apps from the Pre easy, and many of the apps take full advantage of WebOS's best features.
The App Catalog: Sparse but Well Organized
Palm's App Catalog for WebOS can be accessed via the Pre's Launcher menu. The home screen of the App Catalog lists Featured apps and Popular apps horizontally, accompanied by each app's title and star rating. Beneath those two rows of listings, the Top Tags content appears; it consists of entries in various app categories such as Most Recent, Top Rated, Entertainment, and News.
Another option is to use a WebOS feature called Universal Search to search for an app. Simply start typing the name and a list of matches will come up. At launch, the App Catalog will contain only a dozen or so available apps.
Clicking an app listing brings up its description, a few screenshots, and links to view user reviews or to add your own. You'll also find a link to the developer's homepage, in case you need app support. You can either purchase and download the app (if it is a paid app) or try a time-limited trial version. The apps I selected downloaded quickly and appeared immediately in the Pre's Launcher menu. If an update becomes available for an app that you've already purchased, an 'Update' icon will appear in place of 'Download' on the app's info page. Palm has yet to announce how paid apps will work within the catalog; all of the apps available so far are free.
WebOS Apps: Future Stars?
Initially, Mojo, WebOS's software developer kit (SDK), was available only to a select developers. This will change, however, when the public SDK debuts. According to Palm's VP of global sales, the public SDK is "very close to launch." The kit uses application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers to integrate WebOS's features--such as gesture-based navigation, Universal Search, and Notifications--into their applications.
Karl Stillner, the vice president of business development at Zumobi, an app development company, agrees. He says that he has heard very good feedback about the platform from Zumobi's developers. He notes that his company's apps (a Today Show and Sporting News Baseball app) run faster on WebOS than any other platform it works with.