Rush to develop applications market

Fears of blurry apps and error-strewn web pages marring the debut of the iPad have galvanised Apple, its developer community and media groups ahead of Saturday’s launch.

After two months of feverish coding since the iPad was unveiled, the deadline passed at the weekend for developers to submit iPad apps in time for review by Apple and availability in its store on April 3.

The developer race has been as much a land-grab as a rush to improve quality – being among the first apps on the new platform is expected to be a big factor in any future success.

“Discoverability” is the main problem for developers and publishers on the iPhone and iPod touch, with their work buried in a library of 150,000 competing apps. In contrast, fewer than a thousand third-party apps designed specifically for the iPad are expected to have been approved by Apple at launch.

Owners of the iPad can import their existing iPhone apps, helped by Apple technology that can blow them up on the larger screen by doubling the number of pixels.

Marco Arment, developer of Instapaper, a popular iPhone app that saves web pages for offline reading, was unhappy with how this looked when he tried it.

“It sucked,” he said in a blog note. “It was completely unusable by my standards. I don’t think I’ll want to run any pixel-doubled apps on my iPad in practice.”

Games make up nearly half of the apps being developed and tested on the iPad, according to statistics from Flurry Analytics.

Several developers seem to have adopted the practice of adding HD to the names of existing games as they upgrade them to the iPad, judging by images of the iPad store discovered by the MacRumors website.

This suggests higher definition on a bigger, better screen will be the initial selling point and the iPad could help publishers tackle the problem of not being able to charge enough for their games on smaller platforms to generate sufficient revenues. Prices appear to have been raised significantly in some cases. For example, Cro-Mag Rally, a popular $2.99 racing game on the iPhone will cost $9.99 in the iPad version, according to pre-launch screenshots of the store.

Media groups have faced the dual challenge of developing new apps for the iPad and ensuring their existing websites work well with the device. A majority use Adobe’s Flash technology to show video, but the iPad does not support Flash and will produce error messages and blank sections of pages where Flash video is supposed to appear.

Brightcove, a cloud-based video platform for publishers, is announcing a technology fix to render video in HTML 5, a standard the iPad does support, rather than Flash, for its 1,400 customers, including Time and the New York Times.

“We’re talking to hundreds of major publishers and there’s definitely a scramble,” says David Mendels, Brightcove president. “People are asking: how is my website going to work when the iPad ships?”

“There’s a lot of excitement about the iPad, but a lot of stress surrounding it as well.”

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