Our next interview partner is Gregory Sokoloff from StyleTap. The Palm faithful expect him to deliver a Palm OS tool for Web OS, while the folks who jumped ship praise him for allowing them to keep their apps.

Let’s see what he has to say:

Please tell us more about yourself and your company
StyleTap Inc. was founded in 2000 by Robert Chew and me. At the time, Palm was completely dominating the mobile device market, and a large and successful application ecosystem was thriving around Palm. We believed that other entrants into the mobile device market, like Microsoft and Symbian, would have a very hard time ever getting so many great applications written for their new operating systems. As I’m sure you know, rewriting software is very expensive, and developers are loathe to do it unless there is a big incentive, and the more fragmented the market, the smaller the incentive for any given rewrite. So we came up with the idea of providing a runtime system that would enable binaries written for the Palm OS to run on other operating systems without any rewriting. The only problem was the very daunting technical challenge of achieving the goal we set out for ourselves–however, we did it.

What were your initial impressions after the webOS announcement?
It’s early to give much in the way of impressions because Palm is not yet actually shipping the product. So far, we have only seen the webOS in the best possible light as a part of a marketing launch. Nevertheless, I admire Palm for having the courage to be captain of their own ship. Whatever else it is, webOS will be Palm’s own creation.

I would also add, that I think there is plenty of opportunity for Palm to create a better mousetrap. Smartphones today may have a lot of functionality built into them, but they sure could improve in the area of usability. I’ll give a couple of simple examples. The first really useful function that came with early smartphones was the ability to keep all of your contacts on the phone so that you didn’t need to carry around a paper address book. And yet to this day, it is awkward maintaining these contacts on your phone: the carriers do not generally provide an automatic OTA synchronization and backup service even if the phone has client software that could take advantage of such a service (e.g. SyncML). So the hapless smartphone owner is left trying to synchronize her phone contacts with Outlook on her PC, and that process leaves a lot to be desired.

Another example is looking up somebody’s telephone number. You would think this need would have been met from the start–but no! With our new Symbian version of StyleTap Platform, we are shipping a wonderful little application called tryDA which will do a white pages lookup, and reverse lookup, of phone numbers over the air. Of course, you could just use the web browser on the phone, but this a much more awkward and slow procedure. Anyway, my point is that this kind of obvious function should have been a part of smartphone offerings from the beginning.

I have more examples, but I’ll stop there.
 
What did you expect Palm to do? Were your expectations met?
I was not surprised by the announcement.
 
The operating system is said to be web-only. Do you think that it’s possible to create solid applications in such an environment?
I’m not sure that it is web only. It seems to me that you could create standalone apps, just that they must be written in Javascript. That said, there certainly are drawbacks to this approach. A Javascript application is in source code form, and thus developers are vulnerable to giving away their assets if they deliver their products in Javascript form. Maybe this doesn’t matter so much for some applications which are web applications where most of the value is at the server end. Neverthess, it seems instructive that Apple abandoned this approach for the iPhone within weeks of announcing it, and committed to allowing developers to write native applications.

A couple of other issues are performance and API coverage. Javascript engines are getting faster and faster, but they will always be slower than the best Java runtimes, and they in turn will always be much slower than native ARM code. Palm is going out on a limb here a bit. Their competitors are all providing alternatives that should theoretically provide faster performace (e.g. Symbian, Microsoft and Apple allow native execution, and Android uses a Java runtime). I can say from our experience, the fact that StyleTap Platform supports native ARM code execution and high performance has definitely been a factor in our success.

We’ll have to see about API coverage, that is, just how much of the hardware capabilities are made available through the Javascript APIs to the application developer. This is often a big deal for developers: they don’t like to be shut out from taking advantage of everything the device has to offer. In the early days of StyleTap Platform, we used to get many requests for additional APIs specific to certain devices we supported. In response, we added what we call Native Library Support, so that developers could access their own custom DLLs from StyleTap, and thus they could get access to any native APIs they needed without being forced to completely rewrite their app.
 
WebOS is not able to run old Palm OS code. Can you understand this decision?
We’ll have to see what the situation is down the road when Palm actually ships the pre. This could obviously be a problem for Palm. With StyleTap Platform, Palm OS apps can run on Windows Mobile, Symbian and soon iPhones, but perhaps not on the Palm pre. Palm could be left with the smallest application library, instead of the largest–a position they have traditionally enjoyed.

Many have compared webOS to the iPhone, thinking that most applications will be crapware. Do you think that a solid economy will be built around the pre?
Too early to tell. As for the iPhone, I think there is a major problem with the app pricing. If the price is too low, and only a few best sellers are actually profitable, there won’t be a solid economy, and developers will get disillusioned and stop investing in new and improved products. Palm may well learn some lessons from Apple’s mistakes.
 
Do you plan to develop applications for the pre? Could you give us a preview?
We’re well aware of the situation, but don’t have anything to comment on at the moment.

If you could change one thing about webOS, what would it be?
No comment.
 
If you could ask Palm one question, what would it be?
No comment.

Anything you would like to add?
No.

Related posts:

  1. StyleTap on the Palm pre
  2. WebOS intro interview – Tunji Afonja, GX5
  3. WebOS intro interview – Miro Pomsar, Resco
  4. WebOS intro interview – mobile-stream
  5. WebOS intro interview – Adriano Chiaretta, iambic

4 Responses to “WebOS intro interview – Gregory Sokoloff, StyleTap”

  1. I was reading this article on slashdot about a new projected call Seed which works on the Gnome enviroment with is to make apps for gnome with javascript: http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/01/19/2350235

    Is this part of what palm is using for its sdk? I wonder!

  2. Hi,

    I highly doubt it! Seed is still highly in developement, and I doubt Palm would trust such experimental packages in shipping software!
    Besides, I don’t believe the UI mockups we have seen are based on GTK (The Widget toolkit GNOME uses)

    Just me,
    Ryan

  3. I was not surprised by the announcement. Tnx.

  4. Hi,
    my java skills are not so good – very sorry, but I gotta stay out of this discussion ATM.

    All the best
    Tam Hanna

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