webOS to me is reminiscent of the Martin Short character in the movie Pure Luck. In that movie, Short plays literally the unluckiest man alive. At one point in the movie, Short is asked to take a seat at a table with dozens of chairs. One of the chairs has been rigged to collapse, and Short is asked to pick any of the dozens of chairs in the room. He naturally picks the broken chair.
webOS, from the very infancy of its life, always, ALWAYS, picked the broken chair. Seriously. Let’s run this down, all chronological like.
When it All Began
First, before it even existed, webOS caused controversy among the group developing the darn thing in the first place. Initially the very core of the operating system was called into question just months before it was set to be demoed at CES 2009 causing two honchos at Palm – Greg Simon and Andy Grigno – to hunker down over a weekend undoubtedly filled with beer, cheetos, and a cow’s worth of jerky to bang out the framework of an operating system that could actually work the way it had already been promised to. Lovely.
Then, in January 2009, The Palm Pre was announced. It shocked the world with how awesome it was, and it was promised to be delivered at the end of the following hockey season. Wait what? Oh and it was delivered to the smallest, crappiest carrier on the block (but darn their customer service is great – at apologizing for how crappy they are) – Sprint.
Following this, videos emerge impressing millions of viewers at how easily this river stone shaped beauty cuts the cheese. Seriously.
Resistance is Futile
This was followed by a campaign that should have resulted in an entire marketing company being beaten with a bag of hammers. This campaign, known in most circles as the “Borg Queen Blitz” not only did not convey the message of what multitasking or synergy was about, but frightened away all but the most hearty phone warriors who also happened to like cheese. Editor’s Note: I could include a link to one of the commercials, but I will not put you through that again. Besides, this is a family-friendly site.
The following year, Palm released a new iteration of the Pre, with the inspiring name of “Pre Plus” as in the Pre plus what it should have had initially. All alliterations aside, the Pre Plus came with the promise of full flash support and Angry Birds. All this was coming…just after hockey season. Christ.
After finally rolling out to both Verizon and AT&T, Palm realized that after 18 months, they still had no idea how to sell these darn things (although I contend that AT&T’s commercials came really close to being satisfactory) and Palm stock certificates turned into birthday present wrapping paper almost overnight.
The Savior and the Fallen
Mark Hurd, proud papa of HP handily scooped up Palm and their thousands of souls just before plunging into the lava, with grandiose plans of combining webOS and all the innovation of Palm and all the money HP could throw at it. Then he couldn’t keep his junk in his pants and got canned.
HP’s board of directors, being the well-reasoning and intelligent people that generally make up senior executives in today’s modern business society, then hired CEO Leo Apotheker. Leo, who had just come to a soft landing from his last golden parachute, was brought on board by HP’s board of directors without them ever having met the man. What could possibly go wrong there?
Leo said all the right things, and HP produced the Pre 2, which was basically the Pre plus, but with glass and Flash. They gave away a bunch of them at a developer event, released it in France and Canada, and then…whatever.
Finally, it was time to Think Beyond. And boy oh boy did we think beyond. Think of the possibilities!. Think of the potential! Think of the…world’s smallest smartphone. HP brought forth the Veer, Pre 3 and finally their Touchpad. Let’s break that down for you.
1. The word “Veer” is often followed by the word “away”
2. Pre 3 because the branding of the Pre, Pre Plus, and Pre 2 had been such a hit.
3. Touchpad – a tablet named after a part of a laptop.
Also, Leo announced that they would put webOS on every HP computer shipped starting…sometime and when they did, there’d be so much webOS all up in the hizzie that people STILL wouldn’t know what to do with it. But darn it, they’d have it. One hundred million devices per year! And the first device of 2011 would be….The world’s smallest Smartphone. Crikey.
The Veer launched in May of 2011 with Lady Gaga dancers handing them out on a New York Subway. I’m not even making this up.
The Touchpad launched in July of 2011, but couldn’t hold a network connection until mid July 2011. Stranger than fiction.
Then webOS got Leo’ed. 49 days after release, the Touchpad had not destroyed the competition (you may have heard of this company from Cupertino) nor cured cancer and Leo did his best Cartman impression and pulled the plug.
By the way, during the same conference call, Leo decided that the world largest manufacturer of PC’s was no longer going to make PC’s. I’m not positive but he may have also punched a baby during that call.
Shockingly, after throwing chairs at the lunch ladies, Leo was labeled the luckiest German alive and handed yet another golden parachute. After being ejected from the monolithic airplane he had put into a nosedive of financial ruin, he once again floated down to earth and touched down gently. One can only hope he encounters the previously mentioned bag of hammers later in life.
Out With The Old, In With The Youngish
Who do we turn to in our hour of need? eBay maven and failed politician, Meg Whitman. Maggie took the reins of HP accepting a one dollar salary and started cleaning up Leo’s mess. After declaring the webOS would be open sourced and set free to the masses, Meg split off the webOS part of HP into a separate company called Gram. Gram still hasn’t told anyone what it is they do, but they do have a steady stream of money flowing from HP’s coffers to keep the lights on. Just what those lights are shining on, we still have no idea.
Now, just over 1 year later, Open webOS has hit the streets. The Gram team is still chugging out steady updates to Enyo, the open source app development framework that is sure to gain the hearts and minds of developers all, and all is right with the world. Except that Open webOS is still only a half-baked solution that runs on any Nexus tablet you care to put it on, as long as you also carry around a laptop to boot it from.
And now, enter LG. LG is a Korean company that wants to put webOS on…TVs. So, they have bought some-but-not-all of webOS from HP so they can put webOS on TVs. And not on TV in a borg-queen kind of way, but in actually making the TV run with webOS. Why anyone in the world would want to wait two and a half minutes for their TV to boot up is anyone’s guess, but if it works for them, then who are we to argue?
Additionally, when asked what they intend to do with webOS, LG executives eyes glazed over like they had eaten some bad pistachios. They were literally silent for 10 seconds before anyone could come up with anything approaching an answer to “What are you going to do with this product that you just spent millions and millions of dollars on?” They then called back the next day and told reporters “I know something you don’t know”. Clearly webOS is in much better hands now.
So, there you have it. webOS is by far the wackiest mobile platform in existence. It’s very birth was controversial and downright nuts. Its existence in all its forms was the very definition of what not to do. Textbooks will be written called “If you’re doing this, you’re doing it wrong” with webOS as chapter 1.
That being said, every tech geek out there that knows anything about webOS sighs a wistful sigh at what could have been. Potential unrealized. There isn’t a tech writer in this world that will look at webOS and say “I totally saw that coming.” Leaders of technological fields still pick up a Pre3 or Veer to this day – years after cancellation – and shoot out a tweet just so they can experience multitasking done right once more.
And yet, this crazy ride has zigged at every conceivable zag. It has been and continues to be one of the oddest, most confusing, most confounding, and yet most beautiful operating systems to ever grace a phone or tablet. And the ride is not yet over. So pull those helmet straps and seat belts just a bit tighter and enjoy the absolute awesome and absurdity that is today’s webOS.