Those who've been waiting for the Palm Pre to become a meaningful competitor to the iPhone are now one step closer. Palm has announced that it's now taking submissions for its App Catalog's e-commerce beta programme. "

Previously, the App Catalog had been restricted to a few hand-picked programs from those who'd submitted to Palm's early access programme. As with the App Store, developers can submit both paid and free applications to Palm's App Catalog - and that's not where the similarities end. Palm is allowing only a one-time fee for the download of an application, with developers receiving 70 percent of the program's revenues (out of which comes any applicable sales tax).

However, Palm's approval process for the beta programme appears to be more selective than the App Store criteria, with a heavy emphasis on subjective criteria. According to the post on Palm's Developer Network Blog, applications must be "useful and engaing to users," feature an "appealing design," take advantage of the "webOS platform and device capabilities," and demonstrate "acceptable performance and response time."

While none of these are unreasonable, they definitely demonstrate a more rigorous approval process than Apple's own. With the App Catalog still in beta, it seems that Palm is taking a more gradual rollout process. That may not be a bad thing, as it's been suggested that many of the wrinkles in the App Store have been the result of the iPhone's rapid rise to prominence and the App Store's failure to scale appropriately. Then again, given the Pre's current state, it seems unlikely that it'll be the victim of quite the same level of success.

Still, a viable third-party application scene is crucial to the Pre's success, if it wants to have any chance at contesting the iPhone phenomenon. If its approval process turns out to be painless and, more to the point, not fraught with the kind of issues that Apple has encountered, that could be a mark in its column for many developers.