Poor WebOS

HP just reported huge losses but reports are indicating that their fire sale of the TouchPad propelled it to be a the number two tablet. It’s still a far cry from Apple, but it beat out all the Android tablets. I can see why. Palm designed the Tablet version of WebOS to operate just like the iPad version of iOS. The experience is very familiar to your existing user base. I’ll admit I only tried them in stores but as an iOS user I could figure out how to do things on the TouchPad. On the HoneyComb tablets I could not. They felt like using cellphones in the 2000s where you couldn’t remember if it was settings > sounds > ringtone or tools > phone > ringtone and you basically had to look everywhere to do anything. WebOS made sense to me. The card paradigm was different from iOS. It makes sense.

So it’s really unfortunate how things are going at HP regarding WebOS. They have a few choices.

They could license WebOS and stop producing hardware
This may result in fragmentation and preinstalled bloatware. But more importantly, it could lead to driver nightmares and delayed upgrades that Android users are so willing to put up with. WebOS is almost as grandma friendly as iOS. It’s definitely parent friendly at least. I don’t think the added complexity of getting your software updates from Samsung or HTC rather than HP and accidentally bricking it are worth whatever business sense this makes. After all, Apple could’ve licensed OS X easily (Michael Dell said he was interested) but that might’ve brought a lot of substandard hardware (and thus experience) into the mix. If anyone ever tried to use that CoreSolo Mac Mini with the GMA950 you’ll know what I’m talking about.

HP could sell WebOS
I can’t say I have faith in this because the only likely buyer is Oracle and I hate them. Their acquisition of Sun was a reminder that the Java age had in fact closed by 2006. Based on Oracle’s business model (products too complicated to not pay for ongoing support) I don’t see this as a good fit, even with Mark Hurd.

I also don’t think any international companies would be a good fit. If you haven’t noticed, American Capitalism is a lot different than around the world. With the exception of RIM, the Operating Systems and Ecosystems other companies build for come out of the US. Call me patriotic, call me elitist, whatever, but I don’t think Sony or Samsung has that good old American drive needed to make an operating system that’s more than status quo.

RIM needs to tear everything up and start all over but they’re too proud so they’ll never be smart enough to use WebOS. They’re also likely financially unable at this point.

HP could keep WebOS
But HP will never figure it out. WebOS is fun. HP is servers and printer bloatware.

So what would I like to see?
It’s unrealistic, but I would like to see WebOS become the true Open Source operating system that Android only claims to be. Android is about as open as Mac OS X. You can get the kernel, X11, gcc and all that good stuff but to get anything recognizable (like Cocoa is to Mac OS X) you need to be in bed with Google. So I would like to see WebOS become the responsibility of the Webkit team. Webkit is, after all, most of it anyway. Being truly open (not having to sign deals with Webkit) will also open up a new world of smart devices. Imagine what having an HTML5 browser on the front of your refrigerator is going to do for your cooking. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Think of all the screens you see during the day that you don’t think about the underlying OS of. What comes immediately to my mind are NJ Transit timetables and ticket machines. I’ve seen them BSOD (and I have a pic I’ll upload when i get home). Imagine if instead of Windows they ran WebOS and had proper capacitive touch screens that were actually responsive. I’m not saying you’d be able to flick the ticket app aware and arbitrarily browse, but it would be an improvement. An of course once you turn all those things into Web Apps that opens up the possibility of just releasing them. “See this screen on your Phone. http://shorturl/somehash”.

Imagine the same for maps in the mall. Write one HTML5 app and run it on a vertical 46″ Plasma with or without a touch layer, and offer the URL for you to do the same on whatever tablet you have with you. Maybe add in mall WiFi to assist with that…