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.