Palm Pre apps and Palm's App Catalog: A closer look

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 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?

Palm has stated that the company's intention in building WebOS on standard Web technologies such as HTML, Javascript, and CSS was to spare developers from having to learn a new programming language. As a result, developers should be able to create apps easier and faster.

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.

I've looked at a few of the new WebOS applications and like what I've seen so far. My favorites:

Google Maps, which comes preloaded on the Pre, integrates WebOS's Universal Search feature quite well. You can access Google Maps from the home screen by typing your location. Universal Search will initially list results from your contacts and apps and then give you the option to search Google Maps (you can also search Google, Twitter and Wikipedia). You can also take advantage of the Pre's multitasking capabilities by running your calendar and Maps simultaneously. I found this incredibly helpful for scheduling my weekend: I could make plans with friends, put them in my calendar and then search for locations without closing out of either app.

A YouTube app comes installed on the Pre as well. You can search all videos by simply typing, or you can view the most popular or highly rated videos from the provided lists. The Pre always displays the videos in landscape mode and delivers them in H.264 format, regardless of whether you connected over Wi-Fi or EvDO. You can't comment or rate videos, however--an annoying omission.

Fandango and Pandora, both of which are available from the App Catalog, were definitely my favorites among the dozen or so apps I looked at--because of how they integrated with WebOS. Fandango uses the Pre's location-based services to find theaters in your area. You can also watch movie trailers, buy tickets, and add showtimes to your calendar--again without having to close the app.

Meanwhile, Pandora capitalizes on the Pre's multitasking capabilities by running discreetly in the background while you use other apps. Song and artist titles appear in the Notifications area, so you don't have to reopen the app to figure out what you're listening to. You can also pause and give thumbs up/thumbs down judgments from Notifcations. If you want to skip a song, just tap the 'P' in the bottom corner of your screen to pull up the app.

Palm OS Apps Work on Pre

The lack of WebOS apps at launch is admittedly disappointing. Palm says that many older Palm OS apps will work on the Pre (though, clearly, they won't take advantage of the new hardware and software). To use the older apps, you'll have to download MotionApps Classic app, a Palm OS simulator that runs in WebOS; fortunately this app is available at launch.

Read the full review of the Palm Pre and see how WebOS compares to other smartphones.

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