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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  • alxxx - Sunday, February 06, 2011 - link

    So is HP eating its own dog food and making its staff use Pre2's
    or is it still only half heartedly supporting web os ?

    Pre 2 isn't available on any of the 3 major carriers here in Australia
  • Targon - Sunday, February 06, 2011 - link

    HP is not releasing ANYTHING until Feb 9th, so the lack of new devices that you have heard about may be due to keeping things quiet. Reply
  • kmmatney - Sunday, February 06, 2011 - link

    I'll always have fond memories of the original Pre. My company is on ATT, and when I was told get my first smartphone, I was specifically told to go to the ATT store and get a crappy $79 Palm "smart " phone. I asked if I could get an iPhone, and they said no - too expensive. So I went to the ATT store, and luckily enough the Pre had just come out on Sprint, and ATT was no longer allowed to sell any Palm smartphones. Woohoo! This allowed me to buy an iPhone instead, and after showing my company that it was only $20 more, it was then an approved phone, allowing all my co-workers to go out and get iPhones. This was back in 2009, so the only smartphones worth getting on ATT were iPhones or Blackberries. Reply
  • commet67 - Wednesday, February 09, 2011 - link

    In another era the market would have been iOS and Pre to worthy competitors. The core issue is that Google bought stole and copied a bunch of technologies and gave them away for free with Android. This is called dumping in any other industry - except in this case it wasn't hardware but software. It basically puts all the legitimate Software OS companies out of business - the little guys first - (this is a major part of the US economy and spells doom for other OS developers). If Microsoft didn't have windows and office to fund their mobile division they would be out of business to from Goggle's illegal and unethical ("don't be evil" my a$$!) behavior.

    Where are the feds to stop Google from killing off our tech industry - it will be Google's free OS (NO Software revenues from the rest of the world to USA - just great for the monster trade deficit) and a bunch of Korean and Taiwanese and future Chinese Hardware makers (again no Hardware revenue to the USA).

    Google is killing our future economy and a key growth industry we created. Where is the outrage! - where are the Feds?!

    HP is probably too far behind to resuscitate Palm to any substantial market share after Google's illegal between rounds knockout punch - but at least web OS may live to see another day.

    (P.S. I ban Android and use iOS)
  • silentim - Saturday, February 19, 2011 - link

    What HP need is its own hardware store. Dont fully trust ISP to market their phone, instead open their own showroom and store and let people try with the hardware. And also more presence in non US market, I mean lot of smart developers does not have access to Nexus S just because they don't live in US. Don't underestimate Asian market, e.g China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. The developers there are desperate to get early access of hardware, while the society just love to buy anything new.

    And integration with HP laptop, e.g. rather than preinstall the HP laptop with bloatware, why not preinstall it with WebOS SDK? (like Apple always distribute XCode in its software DVD).

    I think with only knowledge of javascript, HTML, and CSS to build an app, it should have more developer potential.

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