After eight months of using webOS, I’ve put my Palm Pre out to pasture. Issues that should have been fixed by now are still lingering, software choices are still lacking and Synergy just isn’t as unique as it once was.


After eight months of using webOS, my affair with the Palm Pre is over. I’ve sold the device and just shipped it off to happy new home. Many would say that Palm’s webOS is among the most initiative intuitive, effective and fun mobile operating systems on the market today. I would agree with you — that’s not my reason for bailing on it. And in no way does my action imply that Palm’s offerings are sub-par for your needs. The card-based system is elegant. The voice functionality and data radio also rocks. Despite some handsets that showed potential production challenges, my unit wasn’t wobbly or ill-made. All in all, the hardware and software environment are both quite good. But there were just too many little niggles in webOS and too few software tools available for me to use the device on a daily basis. That’s the reason I’ve made the move — if a device isn’t meeting needs, it’s not one I plan to use or keep. Nobody should.

I realize that Palm made some positive announcements at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show. There’s a new PDK, or Plug In Development Kit and a million dollar software challenge. But I simply couldn’t wait. There’s far more traction for developers in bigger markets. Colin Gibbs has a particularly relevant GigaOm Pro report (subscription required) called “The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform” that details all of the aspects devs should consider when deciding which market to hit. There are a number of them and Colin hits them all. But I’d argue that there’s ultimately two primary decisions that devs are making: who is the largest target audience — easily seen by handset sales figures and trends — and which platform offers the best development tools. Are there other factors? Sure, there are — Colin lists at least a half-dozen. The gravy train is riding on handset sales, though. So does that mean webOS won’t see stunning software or games? Not by a long shot. The sheer number of outstanding apps however, is likely limited when compared to the bigger players and their application stores. I simply have a wider net to cast when fishing for good software in the iPhone or Android markets these days — and in the foreseeable future.

Aside from third-party applications, those niggles I mentioned earlier are still nagging the webOS platform. Where’s the scroll-bar indicator in the browser to tell me where I am, for example? And when I try to read your comments in the browser — and every one of them is read, trust me — it’s a challenge on the Pre because the browser doesn’t support anchor tags. WebOS version 1.4 is likely just around the corner and perhaps some of these, and other issues, are fixed, but they really shouldn’t have been there to begin with. As several of you have noted in past comments, as great as webOS is, bits of it still feel like beta software. And sadly, some of the bits that originally set it apart no longer stand out.

Synergy was one of those features that was unique and helped identify webOS as a more mature mobile platform. With Synergy, you ultimately spend less time managing your contacts, for example, because it can pull in updated information automatically from multiple sources like Google Contacts, Facebook and LinkedIn. Eight months after I bought the Pre, guess what? Similar functionality is supported in Google Android, making Synergy less of a differentiator. Palm is also showing off the multiple calendar support on the television advertisements I keep seeing. I’ve been doing on that on the Apple iPhone for a while and I have at least seven calendars combined on the Nexus One, as well. The point here is that some of what originally set webOS apart no longer does. Other platforms have quickly adapted and added similar features. The momentum gained by Palm is slowly eroding away.

At the end of the day, I will miss using a webOS device. As I stated, the card paradigm and multitasking are effective and fun. But I see no point in paying a monthly bill for a handset that isn’t quite what I need. That simply makes no sense. And I think I gave Palm a fair amount of time to make me feel otherwise, but of course, that’s debatable. As a consumer, I do wish nothing less than success for the company. Who knows? If Palm can deliver improvements and a wider variety of top-notch mobile software for webOS, I just might be a customer again in the future. For now, I’ve cast my lot with Android, although I hedged my bet with a no-contract purchase of a Nexus One. And I still have my iPhone 3GS, although that’s likely to be replaced by an iPod Touch when new models come out. One phone bill is ultimately all I need, so I’ll keep whittling the monthly bills away, one device at a time as I see which ones meet my needs best and which ones don’t.

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  1. You eluded to the lack of third-party applications being a factor in your decision. Could you elaborate on what you think is missing? I’m just curious to know, and I’m sure the current and potential webOS developers would like know as well.

    1. I covered that back in November when I put the Pre “on notice,” so I didn’t want to rehash it here. The link is in the post above when discussing “too few software tools” but here’s the direct one: http://jkontherun.com/2009/11/09/im-putting-my-palm-pre-on-notice/

      I recommend reading the comment thread on that one as well for perspective from other folks.

      Hope that sheds a little light on the topic!

      1. I’ve read all of these posts and still have yet to see what specific “need” is not being met. Oftentimes, you talk about two different platforms as your reason why webos is insufficient, but on their own each phone os is lacking in some regard.

        However, I have yet to try a modern smartphone os (web os, android, iphone) that simply doesn’t do something that I -need- it to do. They all do the necessary stuff, and do it reasonably well… They can all do web, calls, email, chat, maps, photos and video, and text. The rest is just flashiness or, at most, convenience. I have to say thus far I am unimpressed by the larger app stores… I end up installing a lot of things I never use and does little to give my phone any meaningful extra functionality.

        I also find that with any smartphone os, in order to get the most out of the platform, you must hack it… Quite simply there are users who help these platforms eliminate simply annoyances like you’ve posted, and make your phone more useful.

        Would you really say the things you are missing are things you absolutely need?

  2. Will be curious to see your experience switching to the N1. Sure, you’ll have apps. But the UI simply doesn’t compare once you get over the animated backgrounds. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Good luck! … (P.S. I’d also still argue after having owned an HTC Hero that Synergy on webOS is still second to none. Just sayin’.)

    1. Dan, I’ve been covering the N1 experience on a fairly regular basis here, so there’s already a solid month of shared thoughts. I’m finding the Android 2.1 UI rougher around the edges for sure, but it’s not slowing me down any. Others may feel otherwise of course. :)

  3. Unfortunately, I suspect that some other Pre owners might have issues with your post, but as a Pre owner myself, all I have to say is that if you’re not happy with a device these days, there’s no reason to keep paying for it.

    Other than the lack of anchor support, none of the issues you have bother me in the slightest. I love my Pre, and would never want to use anything else, but with phones being so personal these days, there’s no one best phone for everyone.

    And who knows, maybe in 6 months, or a year or something, webOS will fit your needs, and you’ll be able to give it another try.

  4. The fact that webOS will have more apps than BlackBerry in about a month probably eluded you…

    1. If you’ve been following along my reasoning these past few months, you’d know its not about the quantity of apps. It’s about the quantity of quality apps for specific needs. ;)

  5. I’m going to keep my Pre for a little longer, however the HTC Hero we purchased recently is getting high marks from users. Personally I want to wait until the Android update “early 2nd quarter” according to Sprint. By then we’ll also have the WebOS update so the dance off will be fun.

  6. If Palm had gone with a mini-tablet, they would have cleaned up. Especially after the iPad announcement. It would have vindicated their vision. Still a chance for them to get in. Android is seriously lacking for tablets.

    1. Palm just doesn’t have the ecosystem to compete with Apple. Even if they come out with a tablet – what good is it for if it doesn’t have apps for it?

      1. Not even just the apps. Don’t forget about media like music, movies, books, etc, etc. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Apple products have a superior device, but when you couple it with the availability of media, that combination is harder (but not impossible) to compete against. Palm needs more of an ecosystem, but that costs money.

  7. One phone bill is indeed all that should be needed, but as you say, it can be difficult finding that one device that does what you need. I’ve been in that predicament for at least the last two years. It’s not about finding a device that does everything, rather a device that does those few things I need and has those key features I want.

    For example, I love the ZuneHD, but the lack of a real 7-band EQ made me return it. I also love the TP2, but the lack of a 3.5mm jack means I have to carry a silly 3-inch adapter cord with me if I want to listen to music on my favorite headphones. And while the HD2 does have a proper headphone jack, it lacks the physical keyboard…

    It’s little, seemingly insignificant, details like these that set devices apart, or in my case, makes the difference between a totally useless device versus one that fills my needs perfectly.

    Manufacturers may not build devices exclusively for geeks, catering to the masses as a whole. But as a geek (or experienced consumer) I could make some pretty useful recommendations to manufacturers if it came to building a “no-compromise” device.

    1. It sounds like you’re using the TP2 on T-Mobile. Maybe AT&T’s Tilt 2 (their version of the TP2) or the unlocked HTC version is compatible with T-Mo bands. I believe both have 3.5mm jacks. You might even be able to use Sprint’s version (picking up one off eBay, Craigslist, etc.), since it’s one of the few products of theirs that’s a world phone and takes a SIM card.

      1. I’ve looked into the Tilt2 on AT&T but that doesn’t have the 3.5mm jack, neither does the unlocked European TP2. Also the European version won’t run on US 3G bands here AFAIK, only EDGE.

        As for the Sprint TP2, it does indeed come with a 3.5mm jack on the bottom next to the USB port, but the SIM feature only works on GSM bands outside the US. It’s a CDMA/GSM world phone, but it won’t run on a US SIM using US GSM – blame Sprint.

        I’ve actually been looking at getting an unlocked TMO TP2, as it works on any SIM and supports US 3G. I can get by carrying that silly audio cable if need be, but it’s still a damn nuisance. Thanks for the feedback!

  8. I got the Pre the first week it hit the streets, and returned it the following week. While it still has the best UI of any smartphone platform, I found the functionality lacking in many areas, some of which would have been easy to fix.

    1. The lack of an onscreen keyboard. Yes, that was a known issue from Day 1, but I naively assumed that the void would be filled in short order. Coming from a history with front qwerty devices, having to slide a phone open every single time I wanted to enter even the smallest amount of text was exasperating, especially when the resources needed to add a soft keyboard were negligible — suggesting a cynically willful omission on Jon Rubinstein’s part.

    2. Fisher-Price level native PIM apps (Post-It representations for memos? Seriously?). No categorized tasks: i.e. if you use Exchange, in which case Exchange is considered its own category, preventing you from adding additional ones.

    3. Streaming-only access to audio links. I learned that this was hacked shortly after I got rid of the Pre, but I was too accustomed to OTA downloading on the Treo Pro and even the Centro (the former by simply tapping the link, the latter with Kinoma 4EX or another podcatcher) to tolerate this handicap.

    4. Lack of full copy/paste, i.e. for non-editable text.

    My hope was that the Pre would combine the PIM robustness of the Palm OS with the UI sheen of the iPhone. Disillusioned, I went back to the Treo Pro, holding out for an N1 or Supersonic announcement for Sprint.

    1. Not that it’s the complete solution to all of your problems that you had, but I feel like I should point out the copy and paste has been mostly fixed. You can copy and paste non-editable text now, 1.2 brought that.

      1. Glad to see they fixed it. That was a major pain point. Thanks for the info.

  9. Um, initiative is a noun, not an adjective.

    1. Yes, and “intuitive” is what I had until the WordPress spell-checker changed it on me without my knowledge. ;) Fixing now, thanks!

  10. I actually never liked the form-factor of the PP. I like a bigger screen on a smartphone, but I think the WebOS would be awesome on an iPad-sized device, I hope someone will make it happen before Palm goes under cause it just might be the ticket to ratchet up sales.

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