Jan 11

The table stakes of 2010 and beyond

Comic, Mobile, Tech 1 Comment »

From websites to mobile apps

Remember the first dot-com boom when people started to think that creating a company was just about creating a website? They would register a domain before they had a business plan? Crazy days of sock puppets and and people renaming themselves as dot com versions. Behind the craziness was the reality that to a large extent you did have to have a website. A website was table stakes, and this continues to be the case.

With the iPhone another gold rush occurred. The initial rush is over and you can’t just throw an application into the appstore and hope to make a fortune. You actually have to create something compelling and differentiated to make hour mark. Imagine that!

The “quick buck” allure isn’t there and we are onto the next level of maturity. Having an experience for iPhone users has become table stakes for some too.

So, now you have created your website, and iPhone app, do you go to an Android app? Facebook? One for a new 3D TV? :) It is starting to get daunting.


Walking around at CES the consumer in me gets very excited to see the proliferation of devices. Everything is connected, everything has an API.

Then the developer in me wonders how this is going to scale and how we are going to deliver great experiences to all.

My hope is that the Web can become a great unifying platform. It isn’t easy to build Web apps that will just work anywhere. I just talked about the issues and fun of developing for devices and we are going to be getting a lot more form factors out there.

Jan 07

Palm Developer Program Opens at CES: A big appetite with a Plug-in Development Kit, $1M dollars of rewards, and more

Tech, webOS 6 Comments »

It has been a very different holiday season as everyone got ready for CES this year. This is my second time at the show (first time was having the honor to pick up an award for the Gears team) and was a very different experience.

It was great to come out with some good news today: from Verizon, to video recording, to Flash, to 3D games. From a consumer point of view the Palm Mobile Hotspot is pretty sexy. Tethering has been a pain, and I was eyeing up a MiFi when I got to learn that devices will be able to become MiFi hotspots. Awesome.

All good stuff, but I am obviously most excited about the developer side of things. This year it turned out that we got to turn on the full developer program today in conjunction with the other CES news. A ton of work went into this first launch of the full program and there is a lot packed in there:


New developer portal

When you work with Ben, you quickly learn that things should be as polished as possible. He really lead the charge on making a great new developer portal with a spruced up look and feel throughout, and some good new content. There is a lot more in the works and the community has been coming together nicely to provide some fantastic documentation too. We now have a good foundation to move quickly on, and to really help developers.

PDK: On-ramp for native code via Plug-in Development Kit

One of the things I love about the Web is its diversity. It isn’t just One Community. It has sub communities galore. On the server-side you have Java and PHP and Ruby and Python and [insert every other platform] camps all at home on the Web. Even on the client-side, despite the ubiquity of JavaScript, you see many different types of developers.

I am really happy that we are providing the Plug-in Development Kit (PDK) that will enable a path to native code on the platform enabling a role that we have seen on the Web via Flash, Gears, QuickTime, RealPlayer, and on and on.

The goals of the PDK are:

  • Easy porting of C/C++ applications to webOS, including those that use OpenGL ES 1.1 or 2.0
  • Easy integration of C/C++ components to enhance the capabilities of webOS applications

Read more about the PDK.

Flash 10.1

Flash 10.1 fits into this picture too. I am glad that we have a path for Flash developers to get their content to our users. Adobe has been working very hard to make their engine work on mobile. This has got to be a tough problem given the nature of it (event loop etc) and they are doing great. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

Hot Apps

We want to put our money where our mouth is, and want to reward developers in a fair way, so we decided to offer $1 million dollars in cash bonuses to webOS developers through our Hot Apps Program.

Contests are interesting, but having been involved in a few myself, they get very subjective and judging can be difficult. This is why this time around we wanted to try to let the market do its thing and reward developers based on downloads and how many devices have installed their application.

Some high level info:

The Palm Hot Apps Program will reward developers of the hottest webOS applications with a total of $1 million. The top rewards of $100,000 will go to developers as follows:

  • The developer of the free webOS application that’s downloaded the most between February 1, 2010, and May 31, 2010 will receive a $100,000.
  • The developer of the paid-for webOS app that generates the most revenue during the same period will also receive $100,000.

Developers of other top free and paid apps will also receive cash awards, as follows:

  • The next 20 apps in each category: $10,000 each
  • The next 200 apps in each category: $1,000 each

To qualify for an award, your app – either free or paid – must be available to webOS users via Palm distribution programs between February 1, 2010, and May 31, 2010. In addition, the following criteria apply:

  • The app must have been developed using the Palm webOS Software Development Kit or the Ares Integrated Development Environment. Since the Palm webOS Plug-in Development Kit is not widely available, applications utilizing this development kit or any APIs not in the Palm webOS SDK are ineligible.
  • Apps must be available for download through an official Palm webOS distribution program (App Catalog Distribution, Web Distribution, or Beta Distribution). Apps distributed through non-Palm methods do not qualify.
  • Apps developed by Palm employees or their direct relations are ineligible for awards.

What do you think of this approach?

GitHub Palm Repository


I am a huge GitHub fan and I am really glad that we have opened up our Palm GitHub account with some goodies. We have various projects that contain sample code that go from ye olde hello world app, to Mitch Allen’s great news app from his book to the indispensable stylematters app that our great HI put out to show you how to make beautiful, usable applications.

I hope that this is just the beginning and that you will see more and more projects on GitHub to fork! Speaking of projects to fork….

Project Appetite


One of the new projects is Project Appetite which is an open source project showing how you can interface with the Palm application feeds that come out of our full catalog.

Early partners have already built sites using the feeds: PreCentral App Gallery, webOS App Catalog Viewer, the House of Palm, and on FreshMeat.

Now you can integrate the feeds yourself. There are a lot of different pieces in that one project, and I need some other posts to go into details on the front end code (some fun CSS transforms if you are in Safari on Mac and hit Ctrl-F!) as well as the backend (using Java, node.js and lots of good stuff). There is still a lot that we want to do to help people and this is just the beginning of that project.

Phew. What a way to start the new year. Thanks for joining me on this journey and I can’t wait to see what folks come up with (including us!)

Jan 04

Gearing up your applications to be touched and the horizontal scroll

Mobile, Tech, webOS 2 Comments »

I have been having a great time hacking on code that let’s me do interesting things on my device. With webOS you get to use your old favorites (HTML/JS/CSS and Web APIs that you know) and now you are ready to take Web applications that you may have even already written, and make them work for the mobile form factor.

The two biggest challenges I have found so far on the design side have been dealing with the real estate available (screen size) and the touchy feely-ness of the device.

We have been trained on the desktop, thanks to the mouse as our pointer interface, to click lots of buttons. The tactile feedback that we get is the button looking depressed, but that is about it. The mouse has a lot going for it. The fact that I have a set of states due to the fact that there is a difference between having the cursor located somewhere, and having a click on that location is useful. It can be especially useful for discoverability. As a user mouses around you can unveil information “hey, if you click this button X will happen mate!” It also has the nice side effect that your hand can rest on it.

The infamous Minority Report interface looked great, and spawned many “look how we can do this now” prototypes, but try holding your hands in front of you for 10 minutes, let alone 8 hours :)

The mouse has a lot of drawbacks though. It is a level of abstraction. You aren’t touching the objects, you are touching a device that takes your input and does the real touching. This of course leads to touch screens and bypassing that abstraction. Watching my son tap and drag and manipulate a touch screen has been great to see. It matches the physical world a lot more. He tried to touch my laptop screen at first too.

Since you are mimicking the real world more though, you get into the uncanny valley problem. If you drag something…. it SHOULD drag! One of the interesting design choices that iPhone made was to allow you to drag things even though some folks would say “don’t let them do that, there is nothing back there”. You then saw studies where people were taking their browser screens and dragging them around just for fun. Crazy :)

Applications started to take advantage of this. iPhone started with many buttons. The back button is the classic one that is all over the shop. On webOS there is a gesture area that trains you quickly to swipe back whenever you want, like going back a page. It is fun to watch a webOS user try to swipe when using an iPhone. You get used to it, you like it, it feels more natural.


Applications like Tweetie 2 groked this too. They took away the refresh button and added a draggable notion. You drag the list down and let go to spin it into action. In many ways this is more work than a simple tap and is a touch less discoverable, but it has the benefit of “feeling nice” and once you know about it, there isn’t a darn button in front of you all the time. The UI can get out of the way.


The Newsroom feedreader app on webOS does a really nice job here too. You flip and drag and move throughout most of the interface. After awhile it feels like you have a large virtual space and you are just moving the view port around to see what you want to see. It feels nice. I strangely find that it makes me want to use the application much more than an app with buttons and simple taps. Maybe I am just strange.

I find that I really enjoy the horizontal scroll. I wanted to build a simple HorizontalScroller component for webOS, but first I will detail the low level side of using a Scroller webOS component to get this effect.

The code for all of this is in my HorizontalScroller GitHub repo.

A simple way to build a horizontal scroller is to have a div that contains all of the pieces of content (pre-loaded, or you can lazily load by adding nodes to this div). It extends wider than the 320px viewport size of the Pre/Pixi and contains other elements that are each 320px. We have a view that contains this, and a controller that sets it all up:

The View

Here is how we setup the component with 3 items:

<div x-mojo-element="Scroller" id="scrollerId">
    <div class="scrollerContainer">
        <div class="scrollerItem" id="scrollerItem:1">first</div>
        <div class="scrollerItem" id="scrollerItem:2">second</div>
        <div class="scrollerItem" id="scrollerItem:3">third</div>

and we style them:

/* A scroller needs a container element */
.scrollerContainer {
    width:  960px;
    height: 400px;
    border: yellow solid 1px;
/* An item that is viewable in the scroll pane window */
.scrollerItem {
    float:     left;
    width:     320px;
    min-width: 320px;

The Controller

The code that turns the divs into life lives in the controller.

this.controller.setupWidget("scrollerId", {
                   mode: 'horizontal-snap'
               }, this.model = {
                   snapElements: { x: $$('.scrollerItem') },
                   snapIndex: 0

The key is the “horizontal-snap” mode that make the drag physics feel right and ties to the snapElements which are the DOM elements for the inner divs. The widget takes care of snapping to those elements for you!

Of course, you can use this base to do a lot. The afore mentioned Newsroom styles the divs so it looks like switching cards.

Next up: I will get the HorizontalScroller component done and dusted to make life even easier.


It is enjoyable to use the constraints of screen size and the natural feeling of touch and put them together to make great apps that live with you in your pocket. I thought screen size would be a huge issue, but in some ways it has been nice to have that constraint. It means you focus on the core functionality. Dealing with the touch vs. mouse issue is an interesting one too and will have you ending up with a very different interface if you embrace the feel.

What have you found enjoyable about using mobile apps vs. desktop ones?