Branching out into Palm WebOS development

Palm Pixi PlusAmong the many inconveniences that plague those among us cursed to be generalists — Shiny Object Syndrome, Incomplete-project-disease — perhaps the most troubling (or at least the most costly) is the sheer amount of gear necessary to delve into all of the areas that interest us. As a parent, I’ve all but left behind the halcyon days of multiple guitars, bicycles and pairs of skis — one of each, two tops, will have to do for now.

But as a developer, particularly a developer of mobile applications, a growing collection of smaller-than-a-computer internet-connected devices is a much more justifiable luxury. Having spent a good amount of time over the last couple of years learning to write iPhone apps, I had more or less ignored other platforms until I attended Joshua Marinacci’s excellent presentation on Palm’s WebOS at July’s Mobile Portland meetup.

Since their acquisition by HP, Palm’s developer stock has understandably risen, as we can apparently look forward to seeing WebOS grace devices of a variety of shapes and sizes in the not-too-distant future (Josh was careful not to spill any beans, but made some coy allusions to forthcoming tablet-like products from HP). So, WebOS has gone, in my book, from a niche player to a platform that deserves exploration.

I was impressed with my first real look at WebOS, but also, in particular, with the relatively free rein Palm has given to developers (compared to the somewhat more restrictive and ceremony-wrapped Apple development and deployment process). Enough so that I’ve decided to take the plunge and try writing some WebOS apps. Apparently the learning curve isn’t nearly as steep as it is with iOS, so we’ll see how quickly that translates into results of which I can be proud.

In the meantime, the gearhead in me rejoices that a new platform means an opportunity for a new toy… er… test device. I picked up a used Palm Pixi Plus, their entry-level smartphone, on eBay, and have been putting it through its paces. Not bad so far. The UI is pretty slick — and if I wasn’t so used to and enamored by iOS, I could certainly see using it day-to-day.

Bonus: I’ll offer one tip to those of you who happen to use an iPhone as your main device, but want the ability to hop your SIM around from phone to phone in order to test your apps on different devices without having to pay for more than one mobile plan. This was considerably easier before Apple started using micro-SIMs in the iPhone 4 — you could simply pop the SIM out of your iPhone, and into any other device you wanted to use to test your apps. With the form factor change, this is more difficult, but not impossible.

Pick up one of these: — about six bucks (depending on the exchange rate with the Euro on any given day), and it works like a dream. Just pop your micro-SIM into the tray, an it’ll load into a phone that takes a standard-sized SIM. It works fine in the Palm. I’ll let you know how it works in an Android phone once I get there. I don’t know how AT&T feels about the practice of SIM-hopping, but it seems to work, so there you go.

And now, to write some Palm apps… gotta come up with something more user-friendly than the earth-destroying “Death Ray” app that Josh demo’d at the Palm event…

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