Palm gives developers a helping hand

New incentives promise to help developers get innovative new products to market faster. Analysts say it's high time

On the heels of a $100m ad campaign emphasising its integrated approach to handheld computing, Palm announced Wednesday new incentives for developers to create a broader range of consumer products.

Called PluggedIn@Palm, the new program is an attempt to increase demand for both the Palm operating system and Palm devices in the face of competition from Compaq Computer, Handspring, and Sony.

Palm still controls the lion's share of the handheld market with just over 70 percent of the device market and just over 80 percent of the OS market, according to the most recent market share numbers from NPD Intelect. But critics say that lead could shrink if Palm doesn't continue to innovate.

Palm has gotten the message, said Paul Leeper, the company's director of market development.

"There are over 120,000 developers and 100 solutions for the Palm platform and that is why we are winning the market," Leeper said.

"Now we're taking our help to developers to the next level," Leeper went on to say. "Instead of designing something in-house, we're going to let the experts make products and extend the Palm platform."

The emphasis on PDA software development has been echoed by all the players, including Handspring, Sony, and hardware manufacturers for Microsoft's Pocket PC OS, including Compaq and Hewlett-Packard.

"This is keying off of Handspring and what it does with its developers," said ARS analyst Matt Sargent. "Palm is pushing the development of the platform, and it makes sense for everyone."

IDC analyst Kevin Burden said the new development program has been a long time coming.

"Palm has not done a great job cultivating its developer community. But this new program, where these developers can co-market and brand with Palm, is an extremely big opportunity," Burden said.

But the program doesn't go far enough, he said.

"Organising the developer community is a good move, but this looks a little haphazard," Burden said. "What isn't a part of this strategy, and what would make for a logical next step, is to take a more active role in getting developers to collaborate more."

Palm said the new program will help developers at every stage of the development process: from conceiving an idea, getting resources to develop it, even producing, distributing, and marketing their products.

Already, 14 products are enrolled in the development program, including a card scanner from Corex Technologies, a camera from Eastman Kodak, and a GPS from Magellan Systems. In addition, 100 Palm applications that are already on the market will be converted to work with future products, Leeper said.

Palm believes developers will take advantage of a new postage-stamp-sized Secured Digital (SD) expansion slot, due out in the first half of 2000. It is currently accessible through the handheld's serial port.

Slots for SD cards will also accommodate input/output devices, such as Bluetooth-enabled radio cards. Future Palm devices with both an SD slot and serial connector, will allow consumers to add peripheral devices and content in a wider range of formats, including MP3s.

The program will help developers surmount recent shortages to acquire small quantities of the components they need for development, according to the company. Palm will also help small developers distribute new products by making them available to consumers on the Palm Web site.

Palm is working on a "Designed for Palm Handhelds" logo to indicate to consumers which devices were developed under the PluggedIn@Palm program, a way to ensure to consumers that products are Palm-compatible.

The launch of the logo and more details about the PluggedIn@Palm program will be available at PalmSource 2000 in Santa Clara, California, beginning 11 December.

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