The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

Summary: Palm's soon to be launched Pre on the Sprint mobile network will introduce the first webOS-based device into the consumer market. But should webOS be restricted to just smartphones?


Palm's soon to be launched Pre on the Sprint mobile network will introduce the first webOS-based device into the consumer market. But should webOS be restricted to just smartphones? What about larger devices such as a tablet in the conceptual rendering above? (NetPilot Tablet Design Concept by Spidermonkey)

The Holy Grail of larger format handhelds, Apple's iTablet, is essentially "rumorware".  While analysts and Apple-watchers discuss it as if it was a real product, the secretive company hasn't made a peep about any MID devices bigger than an iPod Touch or an updated iPhone coming out anytime soon and any discussion that would support the contrary is just pure wishful speculation.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

The same could be said of Microsoft, who's futuristic Windows 7 Mobile devices in MID/Tablet form are nothing but pure fantasy at this point. It also doesn't help that Microsoft's top e-Book proponent, Bill Hill, recently left the company.

Symbian is still getting it's act together as an organization for Open Sourcing its rich digital convergence platform, and while an extremely mature OS with tremendous past successes in the mobile phone market with over 100 million devices shipped worldwide from several major manufacturers, is not currently finding its way into advanced devices other than niche smart phones largely targeted towards the European and Japanese markets. If a mass-market Symbian Tablet is being developed, nobody has heard a peep about it yet.

And Research In Motion? They've yet to deliver anything that isn't tied to a mobile phone network. While the idea of BlackBerry OS running on a larger touchscreen MID is interesting -- as the platform already has a large stable of developers that could easily adapt existing software to a tablet format RIM device, I think that it is unlikely that a "Big BlackBerry" is ever going to be in the offing. I'd like to see one, but I doubt it.

But as Yoda once said, "There is another". Palm's webOS.

Palm? But they haven't even shipped a single device yet! Isn't Android the more logical platform for this?

Yes, and no. While Google is making great strides with its version 1.5 Cupcake release of its Android software, which is Linux-based like the Palm webOS, in the end it is acting as a software company providing an Open Source platform for other companies to do the heavy lifting of marketing and device development -- a similar strategy to one that that Palm once tried with PalmSource, licensing its classic Palm OS software to companies like SONY, Samsung, Qualcomm, Symbol Technologies and TRG/Handera which produced PalmOS PDAs such as the CLIÉ and the TRGPro.

While I am sure some of those entries will be very compelling, the large Asian firms contract manufacturing and distributing Android MIDs will not likely have the sex appeal of Apple unless one of the "Big Brands" such as SONY, LG, SAMSUNG, SHARP or even VIZIO jump into the game with marketing. This is not to say that Google cannot pull off a large commercial success with a mass-market Android MID tablet, however it just makes the marketing and brand positioning somewhat complicated when Google itself doesn't actually "sell" something tangible.

On the other hand, Palm's webOS has all the DNA to be the ideal embedded OS for a mass market mid-sized touchscreen tablet device that would serve the functions of browser, PDA, media player and e-book reader. Its Mojo development platform is reputed to be very easy to create software for. And unlike Google, Palm has the most experience of developing and shipping successful handheld devices and software than any other company in existence, Apple included.

Before there ever was an iPod Touch, there were many generations of PalmPilots (although arguably Apple's ill-fated Newton, which Steve Jobs killed when he returned from his exile at NeXT preceded it by several years) and more than 10 years before a single Kindle shipped, the first ebooks appeared in AportisDoc (PRC) format on Palm handhelds. Indeed, Palm is a brand that many people used to have fan loyalty to, myself included.

In the late 90s I co-founded the New York Palm Users Group (which merged with NYCDAUG in 1999)  with my friend Rachel Luxemburg and  wrote extensively about the devices for PalmPower Magazine, the top online news site about the devices at the time. At the end of the 90s, Palm of course lost its founders, Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, who went on to form HandSpring and then were later acquired by 3COM, who then brought the founders back and re-united them with Palm, and then a whole bunch of convoluted spin-off stuff happened which I'm far too impatient to detail. Suffice to say its been a long strange trip for the company, which is poised for a possible renaissance with their Pre device and webOS.

But what of a "PreTablet" or a "NetPilot"? A larger format, touchscreen, color webOS device, based on the Pre reference hardware chipset, presumably with built-in Wi-Fi, 16GB to 32GB of RAM and with an SD expansion slot? Sold in regular consumer electronics retail channels, like Best Buy and Staples? A device that could easily compete with both Kindle and the iPod Touch for attention, and if positioned correctly, would beat both Google and Apple to owning a brand new affordable tablet market segment. What should they price such a thing at? I'm thinking $300 to $400.

Would you buy a Palm webOS-based tablet device, if the price was right? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Why not?

    In the near future, virtually all mobile devices (MIDs,tablets,netbooks,notebooks,eReaders...) are likely to include smartphone electronics (3G, GPS, accelerometer, compass, etc.), for the simple reason that there are a lot of great apps that can be built to leverage it. The ability to make phone calls & send SMS is likely to become important, as well (especially for mobile operators).

    Since most/all smartphone OSes already support the smartphone hardware, it's not that much of a stretch to actually run smartphone OSes on them.

    Thus, why not a webOS/Android/Symbian/iPhoneOS/WinMo/Blackberry tablet?

    Hopefully, mobile devices will evolve to become "standard/open" platforms, like PCs, so that people can buy the particular hardware device they like and install whichever OS they want on it.
  • Nokia N900


    Check Matt's article:

  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    ... at that price point this becomes very tempting
    over a NetBook. It is almost my dream of a cheap
    display you can get at the corner drug store with a
    pocketable fob with the processing and memory. Add
    wireless access and boom! You're off to the races.
    - Dan
  • Yes, if the price is right.

    A lightweight tablet would be much more usedful to me than my laptop. It would be very useful at meetings AND during my weekly Dungeons & Dragons games. Imagine keeping all your D&D rulebooks, and your character sheets, on one lightweight device. It would be a "natural 20" for Palm. ;-)
  • No, your laptop will

    Will be very hard to replace an ever improving breed of laptop that is the home of your Outlook. Makes no sense to have an aditional device if your outlook device can perform the same function.
    Jantje van Leiden
  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    Sounds good. A laptop won't fit in my pocket like a palm pre will. A small tablet device is easily held in one hand. All it needs is a carry handle, the one thing my lappie lacks. I can see this being the device which takes over from the emerging 'netbook' market, taking the advantages of both.
    All it wants now is a simple system for the emails, appointments etc to be stored on a usb stick so I have all that in my pocket no matter which device I use - pre when on the move during the day, the lappie/desktop when at home/in the office and the tablet/pre at all other times.
    And yes, I already have that on my usb, but Joe Average idiot needs a simple button to organise it for him.
  • Palm Pre will kick iPhone's ass!

    I love it!
  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    That it is a good idea. I've been using Palm devices
    (handheld and phones) for 10 years, so I am willing to
    use the next generation of Palm devices.
  • Foleo again

    Hello? foleo?..... maybe a tablet foleo... with
    keyboard... nicee!

    People in the gadget scene are always waiting for
    the new releases, but forget the ones that didnt
    make it
  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    YES! I had this same thought recently. I'm making my first foray into the realm of fist generation users w/ the AI Touchbook (fingers crossed), and could not help but think that WebOS would be ideal on a touchscreen netbook-like device. I am a Palm fan & glad to see them making such a (possibly) stunning turn-around. I could see a successful, resurgent Palm venture into other electronic devices & computers.
  • Don't forget the Nokia N810

    Very similar but a bit small. WiFi, touch-screen. Isn't MAEMO its linux-based platform?
    I'm a long-time Palm-PDA user and love the idea of a NetPilot. I'd like to break the cell-phone carrier dependency. Why not a device with wifi that could possibly use one of the USB dongle EVDO devices?
  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    Yah, I'd buy it if the price point was below $350. As redundant as it might be with my smartphone and laptop, I'm finding more and more instances where such a device would be useful (web designer with client meetings and on the road).

    Sure, there are netbooks, but something even lighter and simplified would likely suffice - especially if it had a touch screen that allowed me to take hand-written notes atop digital documents. Essentially, a Treo or Pre writ large, that would sit between my smartphone and laptop, and ideally, be seamlessly synched with both.
  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    I think it's too soon to trumpet Palm. I'm definitely interested in the Pre, but until it's out, I'm unwilling to praise the OS as the next big thing, much less say that I'd spend 400 bucks on a tablet product based on it.

    First let's see if the Pre lives up to the hype. If it does, then, if Palm makes a Pretab, I might consider the tablet.

    I'm pulling for Palm (competition is good), but, for now, that's as far as I can go.
  • if the platform did not include Intel with a battery life like my phone, i

    would probably go for that.
    it would have to play NASA HD-videos though.
    and do wifi (.11n) and bluetooth to my phone too.


    oh wait, Always Innovating just came out with that.
    their Touch Book.

  • In a hot second.

    I have a BB Curve and I like it for those functions that resemble my old hadnspring plus the phone. I'lg gladly give the phone a second shell to get a small 4x6 to 5x8.5 tablet fomat. Include bluetooth and you wouldn't even need the second shell for the phone. Add voice recognition typing and it gets even better.
  • RE: The Ultimate Tablet: On Palm's webOS?

    With Apple about to intro its ITablet, and with Palm's webOS arguably better and more intuitive than IPhone's OS, it's just right that Palm produces a compelling competitor: a Palm webOS tablet. If it can license the OS to others, Samsung and Toshiba can be innovative contributors. (Sony-made versions may be too expensive.) A 19x12 sq cm tablet containing a 16x10 sq cm (7.4 in. dia.) touch widescreen would be ideal as portable pc/pda, web browser, ebook & doc reader, email & game console, audio-video player, presentation assistant, multi-purpose remote control, etc. Being a comparatively easier and more flexible platform to make applications for, it won't take much longer to create momentum in building up a software list that could rival or approximate that in Apple's app store. Licensing the webOS to others, would not only be a marketing-promo booster, but would also create an expansive customer base for its own central Palm App Store.