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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  • ssj4Gogeta - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    Well, that sounds pretty bad. Google needs to advertise Android as a Google product. That will definitely help. Reply
  • Belard - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    "4 OS Smartphones"? Uh, theres more than 4 on the market. But if WebOS(HP) can make a dent in the market place, it would be 6th major contender. Linux would be 7th and its dying out - killed by Android (Which is based off Unix).

    Around 2010, the smart phones :
    1 - 36% = Symbian (Nokia - blah)
    2 - 25% = Android (Samsung, Motorola, LG, HTC, SONY)
    3 - 17% = iPhone
    4 - 15% = RIM (Blackberries)
    5 - -3% = Windows Mobile
    6 - 2% = Linux (and getting smaller)
    7 - -1% = WebOS 1.x and everything else including Sony's old system.

    WebOS 2.0 is competing with 4~5 solid major competing systems.

    A bit of fun. First SMART Phone is by IBM. The Simon from 1994. It has a huge mono-LCD touch screen, no actual buttons. Use your finger or a stylus to operate.

    Looking at the screensshots, it looks great. Clean and simple. In ways, there are still issues with Android. I'm still on 2.1 with my Galaxy which isn't perfect, other than its screen.... and there are some interface issues that are harder than it should be.

    Setting up an alarm, in which the screen button display is alpha numeric?!
    Reply
  • rhangman - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    Don't forget Samsung Bada. Surprisingly decent OS and the hardware is essentially the same as their Android/WM7 phones. Reply
  • Conficio - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    I like webOS too. sounds quite a bag of good ideas.

    But the hardware spec seems to be last years boat. by the time that hits the networks we are talking about dual core A9, etc.

    The interesting part would be if HP could use this to build UIs for all its devices: phone, tablet, printer, scanner, monitor/TV remote, monitor OSD, cameras, notebook instant on, netbook instant on, etc.

    Ahh, and make it open source and engage many hardware manufacturers. Google has done it, webOS does need too.

    One more question, what is the app install story/marketplace? That is key for developers, isn't it?
    Reply
  • Cyborg7th - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    The pre's specs are last years boat... or more to the point, mid 2009. But at the time of release it was just as powerful, and in some areas better, than the other phones on the market.

    HP does plan on using webOS on tablets and printers so far that I know of, and possibly more in the future.

    As for open source, webOS has Android blown away in that department. I have full access to everything on my pre, including a terminal interface which I can run shell commands on. Thanks to the homebrew guys/gals you can change almost everything on the phone, including overclocking it. My pre is curretly clocked at 1 ghz with custom voltages.

    The last question is where I feel HP needs to step up their game on the software side of things. The current app store sucks to be blunt. I never use it anymore after loading preware onto my phone. But while webOS doesn't have a ton of apps available, a lot of them are free.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Friday, February 04, 2011 - link

    That seems like a curious thing say about "blowing away Android" when the examples you provided are all possible on Android as well. Perhaps you meant to say iOS? Reply
  • Cyborg7th - Saturday, February 05, 2011 - link

    Possible on Android... sure... now get back to me when you can do it without rooting your phone first. Reply
  • tenkom - Saturday, February 05, 2011 - link

    It is not exactly officially supported on webos either and over clocking does require you to flash a new kernel. Many android phones are very easy to root so I don't think that is a very good argument. Reply
  • Cyborg7th - Saturday, February 05, 2011 - link

    That was the arguement to begin with. My statement was about webos being more open than android. Out of the box, webos on any of the phones does not have to be rooted. Reply
  • Conficio - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    I'd think that many of these app features would be great as kind of a dashboard on Windows/Linux as well.

    So make a virtual phone as a dashboard (many laptops have multi finger mousepads and desktops start using it too - Apple?). Then sync the the phone and the dashboard app, allow any sort of sizing, make it a screensaver, etc.

    Same for media access on your media settop box?

    HP has the ability to do it, especialy if they OSS it.
    Reply

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