We’re on the eve of a new WebOS smartphone release. The Pre3 is an evolution of the Pre2, bringing forth a higher resolution (and larger) display, plus a better spec sheet, such as an improved CPU and bumped video capture resolution. The hardware of the Pre3 will be great, no doubt, especially if you desire a hardware keyboard. If you want a thinner WebOS phone with an on-screen keyboard, you’re out of luck. Heck, if you want any other form factor that runs WebOS, you’re out of luck.
The problem with WebOS is that it’s one company making one phone at a time, with release dates often separated by six months or more (in smartphone land, that’s an eternity). And there is just no hardware variation. If you don’t like the Pixi, Veer, Pre, Pre2, or Pre3, then you better look elsewhere. Since Android is open for any OEM to use, customers turned away from WebOS devices have many places to look. Couple that with the range of form factors available that run Windows Phone 7, and it almost seems silly that a phone buyer would commit to WebOS, which provides very little choice.
To make matters worse, the app story on WebOS continues to be relatively weak. Why weak? Because developers have their sights set on iOS, Android, and more recently, Windows Phone 7. A developer decides to develop for platforms that have a huge installed user base. History has shown that developers don’t preempt the success of a platform and move early to create apps. They wait and watch, and then make their move once they’re highly certain they’ll see a return on their investment.
Looking beyond the app situation, WebOS is now stale. The multitasking paradigm once amazed the world; (then) Palm had come up with an ingenious and unique way to flip between open applications. But today, every mobile operating system can multitask very well, plus offer the flexibility of having more than just four application shortcuts on the homescreen. WebOS is the least flexible and customizable mobile operating system out there.
The solution? License WebOS and allow OEMs to customize the experience from the hardware to the software. Now is the time to do it, or WebOS will quickly die (especially after the paltry reception of the much-hyped TouchPad tablet). This is the only way that WebOS can ever compete. Even with the strength of a multi-billion dollar company calling the shots, the platform will never evolve fast enough and hardware will never iterate at the pace necessary to keep up with the likes of iOS, Windows Phone 7, and especially Android, unless HP adopts a more open strategy for its mobile operating system.