If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

Summary:There is a lot to like about webOS, but it is not the perfect mobile OS and neither Palm or HP can seem to launch it on modern hardware.

It's a bit amusing to read on Twitter and around the web all of the people stating that webOS is the best mobile operating system and yet we see that HP is giving up on the hardware and leaving the OS in uncertainty. I understand that there are strong feelings about HP's strategy and agree with many that HP is giving in too soon. While I think webOS does have many strengths, I am not sold that it is the best mobile operating system and think if it really was then we would have seen some success with it over the last couple of years.

We were all quite enthusiastic back during CES 2009 when Palm announced webOS and the Palm Pre, but Palm took their time getting their first Pre out to consumers and then just released it on Sprint to start. Palm only released a few webOS-powered phones and in my opinion the hardware was sub-par and did not match the power and fluidity of the OS.

I think webOS is awesome for the Synergy support with multiple cloud and online service integration, is killer at multi-tasking (unless you get too many cards open when it crashes), has an excellent universal search client in Just Type, makes enjoying photos easy with service integration (such as Facebook), is a messaging powerhouse, and the apps that it does have are generally of good quality.

However, Palm used to be the king of personal information management (PIM) and took a few steps back with webOS when they left their roots and just provided basic calendar, contacts, and task support with no Office editing or creation support. I wrote a post on the weakness of the Palm webOS Calendar app in 2009 and unfortunately those same issues are present today in the Calendar. I can't believe we still don't see an Agenda view on webOS devices and it is discouraging to see Palm/HP do so well with service integration and then leave the basics behind.

I also found webOS to lag at times and as James pointed out new users need to understand the device will likely be slow and unresponsive for a couple of days as all of the cloud services sync up and get configured on the TouchPad. This should have been fixed by Palm/HP or a notice made to new users during the setup process.

We see something near 7,000 apps for webOS after 2+ years while Windows Phone 7 is nearing 30,000 and even RIM has 15,000+ for BlackBerry smartphones. webOS had a LOT of potential, but after 2+ years this potential was never fully realized and may be left to the enthusiast community to carry the torch. Palm/HP never even really registered on any smartphone market share data, except to fall into the Other category. There was quite a community for the Newton back in the day and the TouchPad may suffer the same fate now that HP dropped it.

I will keep my TouchPad around (I paid $325 for it from a Craigslist seller back when that was a steal right before the prices dropped like a rock) and likely give it to my daughters to use for web browsing, Facebook usage, and Angry Birds since that is just about all it is good for now that HP is backing down from the platform.

Topics: Mobile OS, Hewlett-Packard, Mobility, Operating Systems

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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