Blog Post

Why I Just Dealt WebOS My Last Card

After eight months of using webOS, my affair with the Palm Pre (s palm) 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 (s goog) 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 (s aapl) 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.

36 Responses to “Why I Just Dealt WebOS My Last Card”

  1. I’m not in full agreement with you. I’ve had a G1 for a year now and a Palm Pixi for 3 months. I just broke it to my boss that my company G1 is relegated to phone call only status. That they’re paying for data for nothing. Honestly WebOS is the best OS I’ve ever used, iphone, android, winmo, palm os, blackberry, nothing is as productive for me as webos for work. I know it all comes down to personal preference so I wouldn’t knock your decision. At this point I’m looking to get rid of my G1, I’m thinking I want something more music centric. I want a Nokia X6 32gb with Tmo 3G. To each his own in the cellphone business.

  2. Actually its going to be nice to have James have all those devices and give us the holistic view where you focus on the “best” one device (for your needs naturally).

    I wonder if you cast your current vote for Android if you consider the soon to hit the street Dell 5 a smartphone.
    I honestly considering having it as my only phone (relying on BT headset) if that will be technically feasible (battery life that is).


  3. prethought

    I am disappointed that other apps like shopsavvy which seems to be everywhere else except the Pre. Google who has one upped that app. Things like this has me questioning if I made the right decision.

    But one item that is invaluable to me that no other platform has yet is the ability to add multiple Exchange accounts on the phone. One has to happen quickly either more apps on Palm or access to multiple Exchange accounts on one phone. Something has got to give.

    • Multiple Exchange account support on webOS is a nice differentiator for those that need it. Given the target audience for webOS devices, do you think it’s enough to help Palm sales in a meaningful way? I don’t because I think folks looking at buying or moving to webOS devices are by and large not users of Exchange — current readers excepted, of course. I suspect there are far more people using mail services other than Exchange, which diminishes this advantage. Thoughts?

      • prethought

        No, it’s not an advantage for the mainstream user. Unfortunately, it’s the one item that I need and I doubt other platforms will add to accommodate niche users like myself. Hopefully more apps will come out for webOS or else I’ll just have to carry multiple phones :)

  4. Mobile Me

    Palm needs an equivalent of an iPod touch and/or iPad. If you already have a phone contract you can still have an iPhone OS device; an iPod touch and soon the iPad. I am soon passing down my BB for an iPhone (June this year) and hopefully an iPad (with 3G) Nov/Dec 2010. I would buy an Android/WebOS equivalent of iPod touch if they were available. With WP7 there is the Zune and I might get one in 2012…

  5. ickthegeek

    I have the Pre as my personal phone, but I’ve had the Droid for a month now at work, and am finding it hard to put down. I still love WebOS for it’s elegance and simplicity at multi-tasking, but to me the hardware seems to be a limiting factor. A proper GPU driver is still in development and build quality could be better. The Pre is where Android 1.x and the G1 were, a year ago. I’m hoping Palm will continue to iterate and improve the product, as it would be a shame to lose how brilliant WebOS is at multi-tasking.

  6. I am surprised that nobody mentioned the lack of direct sync to a pc. This is really a deal breaker for most of business users and let’s face it : it is a so basic feature, any win or Nokia phone can do it ( even iPhone!).
    this was really disappoint in my Pre

  7. prethoughts

    good luck with the N1 phone. it will be interesting to see how much better (or not) a new premature phone from google can accommodate your needs and provide the kind of real-time customer service they have no background experience in.

  8. I have to agree, the Palm Pre is a nice device but it is just not as powerful as android. I used to have the G1 for a year but recently switched to the palm pre and realized how much power I used to have that I just don’t have anymore. However, the pre has the potential to become powerful in the future depending on what palm decides to put in their updates, but they are gonna need a punch of updates soon. For example, I used to use the browser a lot and simple things like downloading an mp3 file from the web doesn’t happen on the pre. Simple thing like showing you how much there is a webpage through using a tiny scroll bar doesn’t exist as well. I also wish that the app market would include little tools that would allow you to do the things that palm is missing like there was in android. ah well, webos is still a new platform and its gonna take sometime to become powerful, but it certainly possess the potential :)

  9. You cannot judge a phone from the first release. We all know that the software version 1.0 of the iPhone was not good at all, but over the years it got better.
    But these “little niggles” are improving in a big leap.

  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.

  11. Andre Kibbe

    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.

  12. 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.

    • Andre Kibbe

      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.

      • 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!

  13. 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.

      • Anonymous

        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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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’.)

    • 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. :)

  17. 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.

      • 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?