@ CES: Palm Beefs Up Developer Program To Catch-Up With Other App Stores

Palm (NSDQ: PALM) unveiled two new devices today at CES for Verizon Wireless — the Palm Pre Plus and the Palm Pixi Plus. But the more important announcements of the day revolved around new software and developer programs, which badly needed attention if the handset maker was going to stay competitive against Apple’s and Google’s growing app stores.

The press conference had the feeling of an Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) event, where the audience hung on CEO Jon Rubinstein’s every word, and clapped easily for even such incremental announcements as video-capturing on the phone. Still, Palm did have a lot to talk about. In February, it will release a new version of the operating system that will enable video-capturing and editing and full Flash support (one of the first in the mobile industry).

Palm also announced the ability for the phones to play 3D games, and new developer-focused projects, such as opening its developer kit to the public, providing $1 million in cash incentives for the hottest apps; and a PDK that will allow plug-ins for common developer languages, such as C++.

Game Development: Up until now the Palm webOS was not known for hardcore gaming, and was restricted to casual games. Starting today, seven new 3D games were released into the App Catalog, including titles from EA, Gameloft (EPA: GFT), Laminar Research and Glu (NSDQ: GLUU). Release.

Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus: The most exciting part of these phone launches on the Verizon Wireless network is an application Palm is calling the “mobile hotspot,” which gives customers the option of creating a personal Wi-Fi cloud surrounding their device. The cloud is capable of sharing internet connectivity with up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as notebooks, netbooks, cameras, gaming devices or portable media/MP3 players. No prices were given for the devices or the service. They will be available Jan. 25. Release.

Developer Program: As of today, the Palm webOS developer program is now open to any developer, after previously being in a private beta. The SDK is available at http://developer.palm.com. To encourage developers to jump on board, Palm announced a $1 million developer “Hot Apps” bonus program. Release.