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The Palm Is Dead. Long Live the WebOS. So What?

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At a long stretched-out event in San Francisco, Hewlett-Packard (s HWP) launched a series of Palm devices, which are powered by a new, upgraded and, according to them, a much-improved mobile operating system, WebOS. HP, which bought Palm for $1.2 billion last year decided to kill off the Palm brand. They launched three new smartphones under the HP brand — Pre 2, Pre 3 and HP Veer — and to me they are marginally interesting.

What was more impressive — the HP Touchpad tablet running WebOS. In theory it seems to be one of the best competitors for the Apple iPad (I think Google’s Android OS on tablets is a tad half-baked). By using its core multitasking features, HP has created an extremely integrated user experience that marries applications to actual usage behavior and workflows.

There is certain seamlessness to the new WebOS, something one typically expects from Apple. If the demo was an indication, then I really did want to use it. Unfortunately, that is where things started to fall apart. Much like a series of devices announced around the new Android OS, the new HP Touchpad isn’t going to be available anytime soon.

HP didn’t offer the timing of the device, or how much it would cost, instead choosing to focus on features, speeds and feeds. Well, I guess that is what you do, when you don’t have a product. Another thing that made me cautious about the device — and wholeheartedly endorsing it — is that I don’t quite know how good it is in everyday use, when it will come to market and how much it will cost.

And that is before I even ask the big question: Where are the developers and the apps? I think it was the lack of developer traction (and somewhat of an average device design) that did Palm in in the first place. Sure they have Skype, Evernote, Kindle and a handful of other mobile device staples but those are just playing stakes. They need a lot more than that.

Toward the end of the long launch presentation, HP’s SVP Todd Bradley said that HP was going to put WebOS on its PCs and other devices. HP didn’t really elaborate on its WebOS and PC plans. I am betting it wouldn’t be a wholesale jettisoning of Windows, instead it will be a layer on top of Windows. I would say that it would be one way of getting developer attention. (It surely got Microsoft’s attention.)

The brute force of total numbers is with Android (though it is continually evolving) and Apple. From that perspective, HP is going to be fighting an uphill battle. Now that said, I still think they are in a much better place when compared to Nokia (s NOK) and Microsoft (s MSFT), which have failed to capitalize on the tablet revolution, despite being early champions. HP could easily go after the corporate market — and that wouldn’t be such a bad place.

So in summation, I would say HP has taken the right first step to the future. But as Jerry Seinfeld would say, not that there is anything wrong with that!

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25 Responses to “The Palm Is Dead. Long Live the WebOS. So What?”

  1. Mukesh Aggarwal

    not really chicken and egg. sell initial batch at highly subsidized price. once you have critical mass, developers will jump in. if they price their product same as iphone then iphone will get preference over HP because of apps. very few people actually check the hardware specs before making decision so using hardware as justification for comparable price will not work.
    checkout reviews for Xoom. even though it is better hardware, it’s price is making it look like lame duck.

    • Sure Pricing is important. However I put it after the looks (not the specs). The phone has to look great first to get attention. The question of price comes later. The Pre shape is not mainstream. They lost on the looks for me.

  2. So here I am in a very large organization with a very remote and understaffed IT department in a Windows Server/Exchange environment that is so incredibly security conscious.

    Explain to me how HP is going to introduce a new operating system into this technosystem.

    One look at a WebOS anything and the IT person moves on to the next problem with a simple ‘don’t support that.’

    As it happens, I actually have in my possession an HP 500 slate running Windows 7. Fastest thing on the market? No. But does everything, software and hardware, work and integrate seamlessly in my workplace? Yes. Does Al-Jazeera look really good on the screen? Yes.

    And the IT guy says “Kooel.”

    WebOS? Forget about it, corporate-wise.

    • Paul Calento

      For native apps, I’d agree that the WebOS is a hard-sell to enterprise IT … but the device offers a somewhat unique cloud orientation (provided everyone else doesn’t catch up) and a solid, existing enterprise customer base (for almost everything except phones, tablets).

      With the cloud and client virt, aren’t we moving towards a world of device agnostic apps … and, as a result, device-agnostic organizations?

  3. Om,
    Totally agree with you on the release date and price. OTOH, HP can afford to go slow with the WebOS products which Palm as an independent company couldn’t afford. The lack of Apps is chicken and egg thing. If a platform is popular apps will come, if apps are available platform will be popular.That IMO is the big issue for WebOS being not popular is the phone form factor. I would want to know your take on the form factor of the phones ? Do you think they should change the form factor ?

    The lack of apps issue will go away if they release an HTC Evo like phone with Pre 3 guts. WebOs is bound to be the No 3 platform after Android and iOS.

  4. I’m a front-end Web developer and I was really excited about webOS (which uses standard Web technologies for app development). Then I got a Pre.

    Contrary to popular opinion, the hardware was solid build-wise although bit of an odd design for mass consumption. The screen was too small for comfortable typing but the keyboard was tiny as well. Also, the interface lagged considerably. As in waiting 2 seconds between each number on the dial pad slow. Not sure if that was hardware related, but it was a deal killer in the end. I craiglisted it.

    I’ll take another look but I’ll be very cautious this time. Windows Phone 7 looks to be a better dark horse in the mobile OS race, although HP has the patience to see this through as well. One thing’s for sure – this is going to be a great time for developers over the next 10 years.

  5. I don’t have a kingdom. If I get a TouchPad, I’m not getting an SD slot either.

    The only reason I bought an M500 to replace my wonderful Vx was the SD card slot. I have yet to figure out why HP and Apple insist that tablet users will want to pay for data plans or tethering just to get access to their files.

    (Well, I wouldn’t pay for tethering. But my phone’s rooted. I’m in the minority.)

    PalmPilot Pro (1997) -> III (1998) -> Vx (1999) -> m500 (2001) -> m515 (2002) -> Tx (2007) -> HTC Aria (2010)

  6. The interface on the large screen of the TouchPad looks slick and makes the iOS interface look old and the apparent cohesiveness between the phones and tablet looks useful. So this could shape up to be a real iPad competitor. That said, I would be concernedby the “summer” release. In marketing speak that could mean August or even September. That’s a lof of time between the iPad 2 release (and maybe even the BB PlayBook).

  7. What I don’t get is:  Why don’t they convert Ares into a context aware
    development environment.  In the process convert Spreadsheet “developers” into WebOs developers.
    Chasing the same developers as Google and Apple seems a loosing proposition. 

    • Indeed. I think at this point very little is known about the developers, what they want and where they are going with this. What I can tell you from a presentation and a cursory glimpse, they have done a good job of integrating workflows into the overall OS.

      • That’s what I thought too. Now it should be a small step to provide workflow in a lot of apps for the corporate crowd as a differentiation factor from the rest.
        But they need developers lots of them or a process which changes the assumption of “developer” and creates apps from the crowd for crowd.
        Don’t know if HP has the right research guys to drive that. Do they even do SW research?
        So far tablet development seem to focus on consumer display.

  8. They’ve taken a right first step but the second step is to far behind thus they will trip and fall.

    At the rate the mobile OS market is moving with Android it’s hard to see another mobile OS gaining significant ground without being licensed to multiple hardware manufacturers, and starting to release new product this summer????

    I like the idea of webOS from phone to desktop but don’t believe it will survive without multiple hardware companies supporting it. In other words, I don’t believe another Apple Inc. is going to spring up from HP.

    • Looks its natural for us to be skeptical and the lack of developer support is still an issue, but I would hold me tongue for a little bit longer — given enough rope, people hang themselves anyway ;-)