Will webOS Developers Play with HP?

HP Pre featured

I gave up my Palm Pre a week ago when I upgraded to the HTC EVO 4G. I’m not regretting that move but I admit I miss the Pre. The forced withdrawal from the webOS platform has me nostalgic for the user interface on the Pre; I think webOS is the best interface on smartphones. The impending merger of Palm with HP is no doubt a good thing as HP has made it clear it has big plans for webOS. I expect we’ll see tablets and other devices running the OS before long. The webOS platform has lagged behind Android and others due to the lack of available apps; that’s the primary problem I had with the Pre. Palm has been working hard with app developers to get them producing apps for the platform, but a big question looms — what will happen after the merger?

Palm has enjoyed a long-time relationship with developers; some would call them fanatical about the company. Yet the number of developers making apps for webOS has not produced a high volume of apps to date, even with many pulling for Palm to succeed. The merger with HP is exactly what Palm needed to survive, yet is bound to impact the effort by developers producing apps for the platform.

Even if HP makes a big effort to keep developers working with webOS, there will be uncertainty about the permanence of such an effort. HP does many things, and the webOS work will be just a tiny piece of its efforts. Who knows how long it would continue? Developers must be thinking about that already.

What if HP decides to take on the advancement of webOS itself? It may not care if developers build apps for webOS or not. That’s not as far-fetched as it may sound — the company’s first Linux netbooks had internally developed interface shells that controlled the user experience. It even prevented access to Linux by users. HP could take the same tack with webOS to simply produce its own gadgets totally “by HP.” In that scenario webOS app development wouldn’t be desired, much less pursued by the company.

One thing is certain — webOS developers must be as concerned as can be about the future of the platform for non-HP developers. That alone may cause some to jump to another platform. They must go where the potential money is.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers

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