Why I’m a webOS Enthusiast

People sometimes ask me why I’m such a webOS enthusiast. Certainly, I spend enough time blogging, tweeting, and researching webOS, Palm, and now HP that there’s good reason to wonder. Indeed, I sometimes ask myself the same question.

The easy answer is that it’s an interesting hobby, and there’s some truth to that. As a technology professional, I have a natural interest in one of the most important new technology markets—mobile computing—and so if I’m going to have a technology-related hobby, it might as well be based on mobile technology. But that doesn’t explain it completely, because of course there are many other mobile platforms that I could choose to focus on. By some measures, Android might appear be a better “hobbyist” platform; it has more devices and apps to play with by far and is the “open source” choice in mobile OSs (more on this later).

Why, then, am I a webOS enthusiast? Ultimately, I think there are a few reasons, and they go something like this.

Reason #1: webOS is simply awesome

First, Palm started something very special when they created the Pre and webOS. Already, even at version 1.4.X, webOS is the best mobile OS I’ve ever used, and my original Sprint Pre is the best mobile device I’ve ever owned. And that’s not mere hyperbole—I have no special reason to hold an allegiance to Palm other than the fact that the company has consistently delivered products that make me more productive. If iOS or Android were markedly better and made me measurably more productive, I’d have no reason to stick with webOS.

Just as important, I think it’s obvious that HP intends to finish what Palm started. I won’t repeat it here, but HP has stated loudly and clearly that they intend to use webOS to dominate in the mobile and connected-devices space. In fact, it’s strategic for them, and so making webOS into a better and more complete platform is not only a good idea for HP, it’s vital to their very survival. That kind of incentive tends to drive successful and intelligent companies like HP to do great things.

Reason #2: I like HP and Palm better than I do their competition

Second, as a technology professional I appreciate the fact that HP and Palm seem to be interested primarily in making great technology products. Of the major mobile players (in the US, at least), I think that only Microsoft, to a more limited extent, fits the same category. It’s probably easiest to cover each major competitor to explain what I mean here.

  1. Apple: I’m convinced that Apple wants to be a media distribution company selling consumer products aimed at pulling content from iTunes/iBooks. I think they telegraphed this intention when they changed their name from Apple Computer to Apple, and their recent focus on iOS and its related devices (the iPod, iPhone, and iPad) at the expense of their Mac OS X products seems to confirm it. Yes, Apple still makes computers and sells quite a few of them, but Mac fans are grumbling about the purely incremental updates to the Mac product line. There’s been nothing “magical” about anything related to OS X lately, unless you count the Magic Trackpad. And if you do, then perhaps you’re the wrong audience for this post.

    What this means to me is that Apple is making increasingly dumbed-down devices that do nothing to push the technology envelope. Yes, what iOS does, it does with elegance and relative ease, but it just doesn’t do as much. It doesn’t do real multitasking, at least nowhere near the level of webOS, its notification system remains a kludge, it has almost zero focus on information management and integration, and its app ecosystem—while currently the leader in the sheer number of apps—is closed and draconian. You won’t find innovative applications (that are still, unfortunately, not terribly prevalent on webOS either, although they’re technically possible) such as the webOS Geotasks app that constantly monitors a user’s location and notifies when near a location that has a task attached to it. And you won’t find them in Apple iOS products because Apple doesn’t care to provide such capabilities.

    The iPad is perhaps the best example of what I don’t like about Apple—it’s a decent device for consuming content (unless you want to do so outdoors), which is what Apple wants its customers to do, but it’s not very good for creating content, at least while being truly mobile. And it doesn’t seem like Apple cares that much about changing this anytime soon. Apple could use its design genius to come up with a good system for, say, pen input that would work well for entering information on the go, but they choose to be disingenuous instead. The reason, I believe, is because Apple doesn’t care about pushing technology forward or truly enhancing user productivity. Rather, Apple looks forward to a day when personal computers are used more for consuming Apple-provided media and other content than for creating it. And ultimately, given Apple’s consumer influence, this could a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  2. Android: Simply put, Google makes Android to push mobile users to Google properties to click on Google ads. That’s Google’s business model, and it’s all they care about. This isn’t to say that Google doesn’t do some interesting things with technology—Google Goggles, Google Navigation with street view, and such are all innovative and interesting—but they’re doing so with a very specific purpose in mind. The fact that Android isn’t a very user-friendly OS and doesn’t play as well with non-Google products is testament to this. Consider the limitations with connecting with Exchange Activesync, for example: you can get your email (in a separate app from Gmail, of course), but good luck syncing calendars or tasks. Google may change this someday, but it’s obviously not a priority for them.

    My biggest problem with Google, then, is that they’re not focused on making great productivity products. As long as Android is just good enough and runs on enough platforms (guaranteed given its status as free software), then Google is happy. They simply aren’t competing on how Android makes people more productive in any meaningful sense, because they don’t have to. Update: I wrote more about Google and its potential to create a walled garden around Android in this post.

  3. RIM: The Blackberry platform is great for messaging, everyone knows that. And with BB OS6, it’s getting better for other things like Web surfing and media. And one can’t say that RIM hasn’t created a great set of productivity tools. But they also have a built-in need to protect the proprietary protocols that give them their edge. As such, if you haven’t bought into the BB way of doing things, then you’re inevitably going to be limited to whatever RIM decides to implement in the OS. RIM is also a largely corporate brand, although I don’t consider this inherently a bad thing. Nevertheless, suffice it to say that for myself, I simply don’t like the BB way, and so becoming a BB enthusiast isn’t in the cards.
  4. Microsoft: Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s last gasp in the mobile space, and frankly, I don’t like it. This is coming, mind you, from a huge Microsoft fan who runs Windows 7 on his Apple MacBook Pro, along with seven other computers, and carries a Zune 80GB media player. I would love for WP7 to be a great product that pushes the envelope beyond what anyone else is doing, but unfortunately it’s not. It has what to me seems like a very tedious interface that might work for a media player like the Zune HD, where one needs to access the interface only a few times during a session of listening to music or watching video. It doesn’t seem like a very good interface, however, for accessing multiple applications, moving quickly from one app or function to another, or otherwise doing things that smartphones do. And, the lack of copy/paste and multitasking, along with a closed app ecosystem make WP7 look a lot like iPhone OS 2.0.

    As a company, however, Microsoft is focused on the right things. They’re constantly pushing technology in new directions, and they create some of the best productivity tools around. They’re not focused on media consumption or serving up ads (although they do those as well). Instead, they’re focused on making great technology. Unfortunately, they’re so far behind in the mobile space that they may never catch up, and so while I use Microsoft products on the desktop I’m unlikely to use them on the go.

    Update: I’ve thought a little more about Microsoft, and I think that in fact they may fit the Apple/Google mode more than I’d originally conceived. Consider that in addition to being a technology company, Microsoft is also a media distributor like Apple (Zune) and a search/pay-per-click provider like Google (Bing). They also have their Xbox Live ecosystem, which will surely drive gaming on Windows Phone 7. So, really, it’s possible that Microsoft could create its own walled estate, not just a garden, built around a combination of Zune, Bing, and Xbox Live, that could drive the development of the platform even more so than Apple and Google are driven by their core businesses. Interestingly, I do like all three of those services, and so from that perspective I do find WP7 attractive, but what holds me back is the idea that the platform could end up being terribly limiting. Time will tell, but if webOS were to fail and every other mobile OS were to head toward being more controlled than open, I’d likely opt for WP7 before any of the others.

Palm, on the other hand, has been focused exclusively on making a highly productive mobile platform and has been entirely agnostic in terms of where users get their media content. Palm also (so far) doesn’t sell ads, and so is also very open in what services webOS connects to. This is one of the secrets behind Synergy—Palm can connect to Google, Yahoo!, Hotmail, EAS, Facebook, Twitter, and every other platform equally well because they have no incentive to push users to one service or another. True, webOS does lack some of the productivity tools of Palm OS (which was the leader in PIM-type productivity), and it also lacks connectivity in some strange areas (e.g., no MSN/Windows Live Messenger support).

But, these limitations have been largely a function of Palm’s small size and lack of resources, limitations that HP removes completely. Inherently, webOS is built as a productivity platform, with multitasking, a powerful notifications and dashboard system, Synergy, and app interoperability integrated into the core. As webOS develops and matures, these capabilities should result in groundbreaking productivity tools that make Geotasks look limited. Most important, Palm needs to do these things, because that’s what it has to offer. And with HP’s financial resources behind them, Palm now has what it needs to bring this potential to the market.

HP is also a technology-oriented company, with a desire to make great technology products burned into its DNA. HP also has no built-in need to push users to one service over another. Hence, you’ll see Rhapsody and Barnes and Noble Reader clients shipping on every HP computer rather than HP-specific services. While HP does leverage these partnerships, as they should, their business doesn’t depend on them. Compare this approach with Apple and iTunes, and with Google and AdWords/AdSense. HP builds platforms that connect to services, not the services themselves, and so their incentive is to make the best possible platforms.

Reason 3: HP and Palm trust me to use my own device as I see fit

Third, HP and Palm have also given users the most flexibility in how we use our devices, by embracing and (unofficially) supporting the homebrew development community and by making it easy to patch a webOS device. webOS may not be “open source” in the same sense that Android is, but it’s more accessible. Where Apple and soon Microsoft have severely limited how users can use their devices by dictating how users can install apps and from where, Palm has made it easy to install apps outside the official App Catalog. This brings some risks, certainly, but it also creates a dynamic and vibrant ecosystem that’s more liberating than it is controlling. I like that.

Reason 4: webOS will just do more

Finally, webOS will be about much more than smartphones and even tablets. webOS will drive a whole host of connected devices, of which we only have an inkling today. In addition to the smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and printers everyone is talking about, I wouldn’t be surprised to see webOS powering PDAs, media players, and things we haven’t even thought about. This means that we’ll see webOS pushing the technology envelope in more directions than are possible for other companies that lack the breadth of product line and the resources that HP brings to the table.

And so, in the final analysis, I’m a webOS enthusiast because, well, there’s just more to be enthusiastic about. It’s currently a quiet time, with very few available details about the future of the platform, but all that is going to change soon. I know this because it has to change. HP must make good on their promise to “double down” on webOS and Palm because they have no choice. If they want to succeed into the future, then they have to succeed in mobile—which means, they have to make webOS matter.

And I like that, too.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kal El, AboutwebOS. AboutwebOS said: Why I'm an @HP_PC @Palm #webOS enthusiast: http://bit.ly/bsWNGc [...]

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  3. [...] by admin on Aug.04, 2010, under General People sometimes ask me why I’m such a webOS enthusiast. Certainly, I spend enough time blogging, tweeting, and researching webOS , Palm, and now HP that there’s good reason to wonder. Indeed, I sometimes ask myself the same question. … View original post here:  AboutPalmPre » Post Topic » Why I'm a webOS Enthusiast [...]

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  5. [...] own things in the mobile space rather than simply emulating Apple, in particular: as I’ve written before, I think HP will create the best platform for running content from a variety of sources, unlike [...]

  6. [...] my post on why I’m a webOS enthusiast, I said that I didn’t like Android because it essentially represents Google’s attempt to push [...]

  7. [...] consumer-grade media consumption devices and online ads. In other words, webOS fits me because HP-Palm fits me, and while that has nothing to do with how productive the platform helps me to be, it’s not [...]

  8. [...] heard it before, and I expect to hear it again before all is said and done. And I’ve written about this so many times, I’m starting to sound like a broken [...]

  9. [...] I’ve written in the past that I don’t like how Google’s business model pushes them to offer a mobile OS in Android but not necessarily to make that mobile OS a great one. My argument has been based on the fact that Google doesn’t really care how users get to Google properties where they’re served up Google AdWords, as long as they get there. Indeed, I’ve pointed out how Android users (and everyone who uses any Google property) aren’t Google’s customers, but rather we’re their product. In aggregate, we’re what Google sells to their advertisers. [...]

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