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Palm Announces New Palm Developers Network

Wed Sep 13, 2006 - 9:49 AM EDT - By Dieter Bohn

Full Interview Transcript

(Note: the audio quality of our phone interview isn't exactly up to my standards, so instead I'm posting just the full transcript below. Thanks again to Mike Rand for granting TreoCentral this interview!) I'll clean up the audio and include portions of it in our TreoCast next week.

TreoCentral Interviews Mike Rand, director of the Palm Developer's Network

TreoCentral (TC): Why don't you tell me a little bit about the Palm Developer Network?

Mike Rand (MR): You bet. We're very excited. We're making a significant investment to refresh and reinvigorate our relationship with our developer community - that's both the PalmOS community as well as the Windows Mobile community. We're re-launching under the name of the Palm Developer Network. We're going to be providing significant new technical and marketing services to our developers and partners to help them build their business. Ultimately, I think the customers are the big beneficiaries here. Products and applications are going to go from concept to market, we believe, more quickly - it will make it easier for developers to get those great applications out on Palm devices and out and available to the Palm ecosystem.

One particular part of the program that we're introducing is the "Designed for Palm Products" compatibility test program. We have a number of our partners and developers here with us that will be showing off their applications. They were part of a beta program we just recently completed. They put their applications through the compatibility test suite and by successfully completing that they earn the "Designed for Palm Products" logo with helps them leverage their brand with the broader Palm brand.

We're very excited about that.

TC: What folks have you got that have already gotten this "Designed for Palm" seal?

MR: There's a number of key partners that we've worked with for some time, companies like Handmark, Motion Apps, DataViz, Avvenu. The original beta program which we just completed has about 12 or 13 [partners] that have completed. We have a number of other partners that are in the queue starting next week as the program goes live getting ready to start their testing as well. It will be an ongoing process, people will be able to log on to a website. They'll be able to register for the test environment, and then they'll be queued up for the third party company that we're using that are doing the actual testing on our behalf. That's pretty standard for the industry.

TC: That's Quality Partners, is it not?

MR: That's right. They do quite a bit of this across the industry. We, Palm, our developer technical services and our QA department actually designed the test suite themselves. So every application goes through a general test suite and then also we've come up with some pretty specific testing we do within categories. For example, a game will go through a slightly different set of test than a productivity or an enterprise or multimedia app might. So we did design that in collaboration with Quality Partners but they are our outsourced partner that conducts the testing on our behalf. We then review those results before we award the logo upon successful completion of the testing.

TC: Can you talk a little bit more about this compatibility test. What sort of things are you testing for? Do these applications have to be cross platform? Do they have to work both on the PalmOS or Windows Mobile 5? Are you maybe wondering if they need to be "well behaved" so that they can work under emulation in future version of the PalmOS?

MR: That's a great characterization. The way we look at it, there's compatibility testing, that's what we call it. We want to know if it's a well-behaved application, if it's going to have quality, be reliable if one of our customers purchase and deploy that application on their Palm device. We've created a "typical customer" environment on the phone itself - so rather than testing an application in isolation it's resident with three or five other applications also running at that time. So we determine that it's a well behaved application in that environment.

TC: Right. That's a great idea. That's going to make a big difference. Now, does this compatibility test apply just to PalmOS, or also to WM5?

MR: It covers everything. It covers PalmOS as well as Windows Mobile. We rely on Microsoft and PalmSource who both have the programs themselves at the operating system level. But where we're testing is at the device level, where we felt there was a need and a value for the service and the program that we launched.

TC: You know, actually, one of the things that I liked when I read about this was the device-level idea, "Designed for Palm," seems like that might help a little bit with branding for Palm - now that the smartphone competition is starting to pick up a little bit. Did you guys think about that when you started your developer community, are you concerned about that?

MR: Well, it's not a concern, but certainly we saw it as a clear benefit and a value to Palm, and clearly its a benefit to our developer partners. They're thrilled to be able to associate their brand with the broader Palm brand. Whenever we have a great experience on a device it's a combination of the device and software. It just made a lot of sense for the partners, they've been very enthusiastic about participating and queuing up. We had a fully-subscribed beta program - we had to turn a few away from beta, but obviously they'll participate once the program goes live next week.

TC: So that's gone pretty smoothly with the folks in the beta program, they've been very happy with it?

MR: It's like any beta program. They're happy now, it took us a little work. Again, you know, beta wasn't just about testing but about the overall process. How easy was it for a developer to sign up at the website? How easy was it to submit their application? Were they able to follow their application as it went through the testing? Was there prompt notification of results? Were they notified if there were any issues and how did that go? It was really the entire process; it was more than just the technical scripting itself. So we learned a few things like any beta program, we think we resolved most of them at this point. There's a few more thing that we'll be working on to make the program more effective for both ourselves and our developer partners to participate.

On balance, I'd say it's been a very good experience. We have out beta partners too with us this week at the [CTIA] show - in a pavilion. They'll be here to talk about their experience.

TC: Great, I'll be sure to send Marcus and Michael over there to talk to them.

MR: Please do.

[ note: The choice came down between talking to developers about the Developers Network and playing around with the new. The 750v won. :-) ]

TC: Actually, tell me a little bit about this "Palm Select Developer Program." There's two tiers of participating?

MR: Exactly right. What we wanted to do, and I think you understand, the "Design for Palm Products" logo is really for application, an application compatibility logo. Separate and distinct from that (and clearly that's a first criteria) we have some very strong business relationships with some of our developer partners. We wanted to recognize and reward that business relationship so we're creating the "Select Business Developer Program" and it will be a by-invitation program. We'll be inviting our top business developers and partners to be part of that program in the Fourth quarter. We haven't issued the invitations yet but we're clearly going through the criteria and so forth now - and we'll be announcing that during the fourth quarter.

It will indicate a much closer business relationship with Palm, they'll share in our brand. They'll also be eligible for the premium technical and marketing services that we'll offer to our Select Developers.

TC: Okay, so what are the main differences for a "Top tier" developer? Is it faster access to higher level people?

MR: Exactly right. For example, case management for technical support. We provide them direct access to our developer technical services team. We made a much tighter service-level agreement in terms of turnaround whenever they need some help.

On the marketing side they'll have a much stronger opportunity around press activities, around trade show and events activities, around success stories that we'll do together. Those kind of things are the premium service.

TC: Now, later on this year you guys are releasing the "Palm Solutions Directory." Is that just going to be software from these premium members or is that going to be a wider net? How is that going to work?

MR: It will be a wider net, we're very excited about that. The directory itself will showcase all the applications that complete the "Designed for Palm Products" testing. We want to make that visible to the broad Palm ecosystem. It will be a searchable directory, obviously available on the Palm Developer Network website. You'll be able to search by device, by category of solution, or by developer partner name.

So if you wanted for find, say for example, great applications for sales force automation that run on Windows Mobile, that would be one first-stop shop where you could find those things. The directory is promotional, not e-commerce...

TC: I was going to ask, how does that relate to your current software store? It's just going to promote the software.

MR: It will be promotional, but we will have the ability to have links on the website that will vector you to a site where you can get trial software or purchase the product. [But it's mainly] a search and presentation environment.

TC: Your know, this whole program sort of feels to me like the "Made for iPod" program that they did for their accessory developers. Have you considered doing something like that for accessory developers or are you just planning on doing that for applications as this point?

MR: Well, in fact the program addresses both our accessories partners and our software partners.

TC: Oh really?

MR: I've been focusing on software because there are so many software partners. But the "Designed for Palm" logo applies to hardware accessories as well. We have scripts and QP [Quality Partners] has the ability to do hardware testing. As you well know, it gets more interesting with some of the newer apps where you're doing things, for example, like GPS or location-based service. Where you have some hardware, you have service, and you have software it gets very interesting then in terms of compatibility testing. We're supporting hardware, software obviously, and even service applications to some extent through that program.

TC: I'm glad you brought up GPS. It seems like one of the big hassles of having to sell smartphones and Treos is you have to deal with carriers and the restrictions they put on stuff. Do you see this program helping to maybe convince carriers to start promoting 3rd-party apps, maybe finally unlock their location-based service stuff, or be less restrictive with bluetooth? Do you see the carriers getting interested in this at all?

MR: I think they'll get interested. I can certainly say without speculation that the carriers are very interested in the program we're launching. They're very excited about the whole idea of the "Designed for Palm Products." It gives them assurance that applications will run well in their environment with the phones running on their network. So they're clearly behind that.

I think that it may help prod them forward, but that would be speculation on my part.

TC: Yeah.

MR: We really haven't had a specific discussion yet. I think once we get more of these logo'd applications out there it's going to be an easier discussion to have with the carriers.

TC: Ok. How do you see this developers network positioning you for future versions of the PalmOS and Windows Mobile 5 that might come down the road? Specifically I'm wondering about how does this developer community relate to PalmSource and how do they seem to be talking to their developers.

MR: Well it's clearly complimentary. We share the PalmOS environment, we're both strongly behind Garnet. We'll continue to support it, as you know, we have a license through 2010 with PalmOS and with Garnet. We think it's a great environment and we'll continue to support it strongly. We'll continue to have technical and marketing services available to make it simple to go from concept to market on PalmOS but also on Windows Mobile.

We're taking a very balanced approach to both of those platform environments. We think both of them have a lot of legs in them yet. As you know there was some press related to them [PalmSource] in the July timeframe. We continue to negotiate with PalmSource around what the future of the PalmOS environment is going to look like. We're continuing those discussions, hopefully there'll be more news on that coming soon - but that's not happening this week at this event [CTIA].

TC: Sure. Well, good deal, thank you very much for your time, this has been great.

MR: Thank you.


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