The State of webOS (For Me) at the End of 2010

Here we are at the end of 2010, almost a full two years from when webOS and the Palm Pre were first announced at CES 2009. A great deal has happened since then—the Pre was launched to a lukewarm reception in the market, and Palm was subsequently purchased by HP—and today there is, for all intents and purposes, no viable webOS device currently for sale in the US. Hopes for our favorite mobile platform hinge on HP Palm’s announcement at CES (or soon thereafter, perhaps) and on how quickly the company can release competitive new smartphone and tablet hardware to begin the process of making webOS a success.

For myself, a great deal has changed as well. My job has become busier than ever with more responsibility, and my personal life has been plagued by new constraints that have significantly curtailed the amount of time I can spend evangelizing webOS (or, in general, writing about any other platform). Also, I’ve found myself with greater need (and desire) for certain applications that have remained unavailable on webOS, including document editing apps, barcode scanners, a viable Evernote client, a Barnes & Noble Nook reader client, audio recording capabilities, and Shazam. In short, events have conspired such that I need functionality that I cannot get with webOS.

I hinted at this possibility in my column at webOSRoundup, where I said:

In the final analysis, though, I’m sticking with webOS because I believe it will one day be the best at what I need from a smartphone, and in the meantime the investments I’ve made in the platform are enough to keep me firmly planted. That’s not a guarantee, of course. It’s entirely conceivable that my need for editing documents on the go, for taking audio notes during meetings, and for a device that’s far more consistently responsive will outweigh the generally great experience that webOS affords me. If those things don’t come at some point, then my perspective might have to change. But for now, it doesn’t, and so here I stay for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately (at least for me and webOS), I’ve hit precisely that point where the things webOS won’t do have become more important than what it does so well. And, I’ve hit it sooner than I ever have expected—the “foreseeable future” has turned out to be much closer than I imagined. The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. The fact that my Sprint Pre has been performing terribly for the last few months hasn’t helped, either.

Therefore, it pains me to say that I’ve had no choice but to purchase a Samsung Epic 4G and activate it as my primary smartphone on my Sprint account. I’ve subsequently installed all of the apps that I need for work and at home (most of them from this list), and have been working at becoming more familiar with the Android mobile OS. I’ll provide some conclusions shortly, but suffice it to say that while webOS remains my favorite mobile OS for a number of key reasons, Android provides the functionality that I still don’t have with webOS—after all this time.

Rumors continue to abound about HP Palm’s plans for new hardware and webOS updates, of course. That’s to be expected, with CES 2011 right around the corner and the webOS community absolutely salivating for new hardware and the next version of the OS. The latest rumor was posted at webOSRoundup, with an alleged HP employee claiming that HP Palm won’t be announcing anything at CES but will rather hold their own event, where they’ll lay out a roadmap that has webOS 2.X arriving on legacy hardware in March 2011 and the next webOS smartphone arriving on Sprint in June. Clearly, that’s a roadmap that will cause considerable consternation among the webOS community (myself included) and has even more enthusiasts opting for other platforms in the meantime.

For myself, this particular rumor seems about right. There are simply no indications from HP Palm that they plan to move any faster, and Rubinstein himself recently stated at All Things D’s Dive Into Mobile conference that we’ll be having a different discussion this time next year (he said this in early December). Note that he didn’t say we’d be having a different discussion next Spring or even by the Summer. I think he said precisely what he meant to say, and that while 2011 will be an exciting year for the platform, it could very well be heavily weighted toward the second half.

Of course, these rumors could certainly turn out to be incorrect (as so many have), and HP Palm could announce new smartphones to be available immediately after their announcement (whenever that might be). But, I simply don’t believe it. It think June sounds about right for a new smartphone on Sprint, and March wouldn’t surprise me for the widespread availability of webOS 2.X.

For myself, waiting until March for a webOS upgrade to resolve the performance issues I’ve been having with my Sprint Pre simply isn’t feasible, and waiting until June for new hardware that puts the Pre’s limitations behind me is even less so. And as I mentioned earlier, I simply can’t wait any longer to have access to the functionality I need to keep my head above water in these trying times.

As I’ve used Android over the last week, I’ve discovered that while it’s nowhere near as efficient a multitasker as webOS, it’s not quite as bad as I expected, either. It has a level of complexity that exceeds that of webOS, but then again it also offers far more functionality and configurability. I have to wonder if webOS will remain quite so simple when it, too, has the same inherent complexity as Android—which it will if it’s not to follow iOS in eschewing capabilities for simplicity. Android also isn’t nearly as proficient at managing notifications and integrating information from different sources. But, it became a choice of trading the core strengths of webOS for all of apps that I need, and so far at least it’s been a decent tradeoff.

What does this mean for me in the near-term? Well, in coming to this decision I’ve needed to make some predictions. First, how long it would take for webOS to achieve the market success needed to induce developers to write these apps for the platform? Second, how much time it would take to write them? A tablet by itself, unless wildly successful (defined as selling many millions of units almost immediately), will not be enough to convince a market that lacks confidence in the platform’s long-term viability. That will take industry-leading (or, at least, very strongly competitive) smartphones released on enough carriers and selling lots and lots of units.

If this hardware isn’t released until the second quarter, and even if it sells extremely well, then it will still take some months for developers to publish their apps on webOS. Realistically speaking, then, I could be waiting until the fourth quarter  of 2011 until webOS provides the level of functionality that I need today—and the decision thus became clear. By then, of course, I’ll have earned another Sprint upgrade, and I’ll be free to move back to webOS.

At the same time, if HP Palm surprises us and introduces an exciting new smartphone on Sprint much sooner, while also pulling some rabbits out of their hat by simultaneously announcing some behind-the-scenes developer magic, then I can always buy one at full price and sell the Epic. After all, I’d much rather use Quickoffice, Shazam, the Nook reader, and all the others on webOS than on any other platforms. And, I fully plan to buy a webOS tablet unless it’s just a rehash of the HP Slate 500 (as another rumor hints at), which I highly doubt. I fully expect the tablet to be a knockout device, and I’ll spend the money on one if only to show my continued support for the platform.

In the meantime, I’ll be using Android to get my work done and to keep up with things at home. I still have my Pre, and plan to use it as a second device to keep myself up to date on the happenings in webOS. I have no intention of abandoning the webOS community, of which I’ve become very fond and consider the best technology community around. At worst, I might post some Tweets now and then using Seesmic or Tweetdeck for Android.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t have a great deal of time to spend on writing about and evangelizing webOS, in any event. For me personally, it’s almost (almost!) a good thing that we’re in such a dry spell when it comes to webOS news. But I’ll keep writing as I can, and hopefully I’ll be able to commit more time to around the time that there’s more to write about.

I hope that I don’t alienate anyone with my choice to switch tracks for a little while. I’ve been a very vocal proponent of webOS and HP Palm, and up until recently wouldn’t have imagined using any other mobile platform. Let me stress this point: I’m not any less excited about the long-term future of webOS, but unfortunately its present just doesn’t work for me. And if HP Palm proves me wrong in my predictions—that is, if in a few months I can be editing documents, reading Nookbooks, taking notes in a robust Evernote client, and tagging songs with Shazam on a webOS device—then I’ll be more than happy to spend the money to get off of Android and back on webOS.

I also have a couple of weeks to return the Epic, should I change my mind. If you have any thoughts that might convince me to do so, I welcome them.

Update: A quick analogy that I just thought of. Think of webOS as the market’s best pickup truck. It’s powerful, comfortable, and a joy to drive. But, it has no trailer hitch, and no way to add one. And right now, I really need to haul a boat. So no matter how great that pickup truck is—no matter how much better it is at everything else—it just won’t work for me as-is. Once it has that trailer hitch, then I’ll be sure to pick one up.


  1. Nathan Beach says:

    Well said as always Mark! Just went through a bit of the same thing, bought an Evo last week, loved the hardware, decided I could learn to like Android, but also decided it was poor enough at the things that are vital to me & that webos is great at that I am returning the Evo. I understand where you are at, and right now it is really about personal needs & priorities, (and if your webos device is still functional, sadly) so still right here with you, just thankful to be able to stay on a webos device a bit longer as we feverently hope for more!!!


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