A Brief History of webOS

Mobile devices have been steadily improving in their form, utility, and usage models over the last two decades. The one area which has seen almost explosive development, especially in the latter half of the last decade, has been interface/interaction design. While the devices themselves have grown steadily more powerful and capable, all that power and capability is of little practical use if it cannot be reined in and presented to the end user in a useful and straightforward manner.

Companies have increasingly realized the role that the platform interface plays in conveying a consistent and smooth user experience and have invested massive resources towards achieving the same. In fact, if done correctly, the interface can actually cover up some not-so-obvious shortcomings in a platform.

Apple, always having a keen eye for the design aspects of its products, brought user interface design to the center stage with the introduction of the iPhone back in 2007. While it did fall short on multiple features, it demonstrated how a user-friendly and cohesive interface can go a long way in getting users to adopt a platform. Since then, various companies tried to beat Apple at its game and honestly, not a lot have even been able to match it. That was until CES 2009.

Seeing Palm, one of the pioneers in the PDA space, stagnate towards the end was sad. However, in the Linux-based webOS, Palm would find their much needed shot in the arm--or at least some of it. Purely as a mobile operating system, webOS bought a lot to the table on the usability front. While previous iterations of PalmOS, Symbian, and later Android/iOS supported multitasking, it was webOS that placed it at the very center of the mobile user experience. In fact, I honestly feel webOS has one of the most useful and user-friendly multitasking implementations currently available.

Other manufacturers have taken note of this and have slowly but steadily included webOS-inspired features in their respective platforms. It's not just the multitasking ability; the notifications, message, and contact management along with the browser are all top-notch in webOS. It is because of these reasons I have found it very difficult to let go of using the Pre Plus as my primary phone. In spite of the variety of smartphones available these days with vastly superior specifications, platform eco-systems, and perhaps most importantly build quality, reliance on webOS has made it very difficult for me to upgrade from my Pre. But that doesn’t mean webOS doesn’t have any flaws or room for further improvement.

webOS suffers from some performance issues. Also, with developer support becoming a major factor in deciding whether a platform lives or dies, Palm--in spite of openly embracing the homebrew community--hasn’t had a particularly strong showing there. It has taken its sweet time in setting up and opening some important APIs in the platform. Most importantly, battery life has been a major issue with devices running webOS. The solution to a lot of these problems is a combination of the right hardware matched up with software fixes and updates. We’ll have to wait until February 9 to see what HP/Palm plans on doing on the hardware front, but with webOS 2.0 we can get a glimpse of what they have in store on the software side of things.

Where Does webOS Stand Now?
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  • Chapbass - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    The Droid X was released in July 2010, so its 6 months old... Reply
  • haplo602 - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    OLD ? I ma still using a HTC Herald with a 200Mhz CPU. The only problem I have is the small RAM (only 64MB). A larger screen and more RAM is all I need.

    I do not get why the phones are advancing so fast. I mean most of the time you just listen to music and browse the web. The interface is too small to do anything serious for a longer amount of time.

    I guess I'll be getting a webOS 2.0 device once the new generation is out (and Outlook synchronisation works perfectly).
    Reply
  • ant1pathy - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    If I could get this on, say, the Atrix, and the application library of iOS, I'd take it in a heartbeat. The software is AMAZING; too bad the hardware and mindshare doesn't reflect it. Reply
  • Lonyo - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    If they manage to make it all work nicely in a tablet format as well, then the only weak link would potentially be application support.
    Hopefully they will gain enough market traction to get a decent amount of apps developed, because a lot of the features sound awesome, especially JustType.

    Is there any word on how much developer support there is for applications?
    Reply
  • mythun.chandra - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    From the looks of it, HP is trying to get as many developers on board as it can. With webOS 2.0, they really seemed to have opened up a lot of the OS for devs to hook into directly. webOS has a pretty strong homebrew community, matching that of Android's. And from experience, developing an app for webOS is actually pretty easy (if you know basic HTML, CSS, JS..you're good to go).

    The issue for developers here is, no matter how good/easy webOS may be to use/develop for, it doesn't make monetary sense for them to write applications that can at best reach about 1% of the total smartphone market. What HP needs to do is move a decent amount of handsets to the market. Once this happens, developers automatically have an incentive to develop apps, with webOS' easy app dev framework only acting as a catalyst.
    Reply
  • Jonathan Dum - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    It's a chicken and egg problem. Developer's won't flock to HP's ecosystem until there are tons of devices, yet HP needs a strong application base until people really start buying into it. I think that's the reasoning behind Palm/HP going for the "PhoneGap" development model, but I don't think that's enough since most serious developers write an app in it's native language (Obj. C for iOS, Java for Android, etc.). Reply
  • mythun.chandra - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    There does exist the PDK which lets developers develop native webOS apps in C/C++. Reply
  • Penti - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    They just need to do what Microsoft and the others do, partner up with a few important developers to put out the apps that's most important. For example Dataviz canceled their development of Documents to Go, they could have put out that if Palm/HP teamed up with them. Cooperation is important, not just a ready public SDK. They could easily sign deals with developers to put out apps if they wish. Reply
  • Computer Bottleneck - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    I think it would be great if HP could get some form of Web OS into prepaid.

    Then let the entry level consumer get used to using and learning WebOS. As time goes by let them move up the ladder to more power hardware and apps.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    This does look very usable; and straightforward. My main concern is that there isn't room for a 4 OS smartphone marketplace. I mean, average people are already confused about the difference between Android and iOS, except ones apple ones "Verizon". Yeah, I've heard that one before. "Android, that's those Droid phones on Verizon right?" Even though you can get them on any network. I haven't even mentioned Win7 yet. Now there's going to be another one? They'll need one hell of a marketing campaign to break into the minds of the sheeple.

    For the most part it seems like people buy what their family/friends buy. Or if they get addicted to a specific app they'll stick with it. I think Windows cloud based features will earn a lot of loyalty.

    On hardware I'd still like to see a smartphone that can truly replace my point n shoot camera. I'm talking almost instant photo taking when I hit the button, no 3 second pause. with a slide out design except no keyboard, joystick/s and a couple buttons for gaming. That's what I wanna do with it, play video games, shoot photos, record video. Surf the web, get directions, check movie times, watch youtube, use it as an mp3 player.
    Reply

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