HP webOS: a (not-so) brief history, Part 2

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In Part 1 of this webOS history lesson, we took a look at how Palm decided to move away from PalmOS and develop an entirely new operating system for mobile smartphones called webOS. While it gained critical acclaim, a number of missteps prevented it from taking off and reaching its full potential.  Hoping to gain some more momentum, Palm was all set to present at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010. Let's take a look at what their next steps were

2010
The highlights of Palm's presentation at CES included the release of the Pre Plus (the same Pre-style phone with upgraded hardware and software) and Pixi Plus (a Pixi with Wi-Fi), a carrier-approved mobile hotspot tethering app, and the announcement of their Plug-in Development Kit (PDK) to give developers access to more robust APIs by coding in C++ or taking advantage of OpenGL for 3D gaming. The PDK, they said, would also allow developers to port their iPhone games to webOS in a matter of hours or days with minimal effort (this was evident when later in the year, Rovio Mobile announced they were able to port Angry Birds to webOS in a few days, while it took months to get it ready for Android). Once again, Palm received a great reception at CES, but an admittedly botched launch on Verizon and a lackluster marketing program that included ads targeted towards Moms once again held webOS back while iOS stayed strong, Android continued its amazing growth, and Microsoft announced its new Windows Phone 7 that would be released later that year.

In April 2010, Palm finally realized that it could not continue as an independent company. Although they announced that the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus would be released on AT&T in June, they just did not have the money or scale to really make webOS shine. After discussions and negotiations with five different companies, Palm announced that they would be purchased by HP for $1.2 billion. This would enable HP to control their own OS, not just for smartphones for also for products such as tablets (no more Windows 7), Printers and even possibly PCs or Netbooks.

By July, Palm was no longer an independent company, but instead now the Palm Global Business Unit of HP. As with most acquisitions/mergers, it takes time to see the fruits of their labor and it caused Palm to sit out an entire product lifecycle. webOS 2.0 and the Pre2 were announced that fall, and while this was still clearly from Palm's product roadmap, there were some signs that HP's money and production scale had an impact in the hardware of the Pre2. Gorilla Glass replaced the plastic screen. A 1GHz processor was a nice improvement. And while the overall form factor didn't change much, the hardware was clearly updated. And webOS 2.0 showed a lot of promise, improving on an OS that had already received critical acclaim. As Joshua Topolsky wrote in his webOS 2.0 review for engadget.com "Despite some issues, webOS 2.0 is probably neck and neck with iOS4 when it comes to polish and ease of use, and that's a pretty huge thing for Palm. This isn't just a good OS, it's a great OS, and the updates in this version have made it even better. It's obvious that when combined with even slightly better hardware, it's also a fast experience that makes it easy to get real work done." For a full review of webOS 2.0 and the changes it brought, you can check out the articles at PreCentral or Engadget.

Once again, there was a glimmer of hope for the webOS faithful. However, despite the high expectations for the Pre2, it was only released as an unlocked GSM device without any US carrier support (it is compatible with AT&T 3G networks in the US) and minimal worldwide support, and while it was also announced for Verizon there was no specific launch date provided. In addition, there was once again no marketing campaign during the busy holiday season, leaving webOS just sitting on tiny percentage of marketshare. Everyone in the webOS community was hoping that HP/Palm would have yet another big announcement at CES in January of 2011 of new hardware, including the rumored PalmPad tablet that they were working on to rival the iPad.

2011
For the first time in 3 years, Palm (now HP) announced that they will not be presenting at CES, but instead they decided to hold their own dedicated event in early February with the tagline "Think Big. Think Small. Think Beyond." As expected, "Think Big" referred to their tablet (now dubbed the TouchPad). "Think Small" was for their super-small smartphone the Veer unveiled at the show as well as their new Pre3, which would be a larger and upgraded version of their Pre-line of phones. "Think Beyond" was their look to the future, that included webOS being loaded on all 100 million HP PCs sold each year, as well as on Printers and multiple other form factors. Once again, the audience was definitely excited for these hardware and software announcements, but disappointment quickly set in when no specific carriers or timeframes were provided. "In the coming months" started to be a tagline that webOS fans would become familiar with, as the only timeframe given was "Spring" for the Veer and "Summer" for the TouchPad and Pre3. Oh, and they announced that the Pre2 would finally be released on Verizon the following week, but once again without any type of marketing or in-store support, practically nobody even knew the Pre2 existed.

So that brings us to present day. With the HP Veer just released on AT&T and the TouchPad and Pre3 "coming soon" (although with no carrier announcements), there is once again a feeling that great things are on the horizon for the webOS community.  HP has stated that they are gearing up for a large marketing campaign for the Veer by the end of this month and they are already starting to focus on their sales and distribution channels to get the word out about the TouchPad. 

 

Stay tuned for the final chapter of this history lesson of webOS, where we will look to the future of webOS--including webOS 3.0 and new devices that will carry webOS--resources for developers who are interested in developing for webOS, and at what HP is doing to attract developers to the platform.

 

Adam Marks is a writer for PreCentral.net, a Smartphone Experts website dedicated to all things webOS

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