2011: The year in review
Oh, what a year 2011 has been for the webOS Nation. It seems like every other month was a glorious hallelujah or a punch in the gut (and sometimes both). We thought 2010 was a roller coaster, but in comparison to this year it was a mere carousel. The year started with the rumors of a new webOS tablet from HP, an App Catalog that had just crested 5,000 entries, and webOS 2.0 on the Palm Pre 2. And then things went a little, uh, crazy. After the break, we take a long look back at the year that was 2011.
It didn’t take long into 2011 for things to get interesting. In fact, it was January 4th that HP announced they would be holding an even a month later in San Francisco, titled “Think big. Think small. Think beyond.” And then the leaks began. HP CTO Phil McKinney teased a webOS tablet for the February 9 event, and Personal Systems Group head Todd Bradley hinted at the possibility as well. Then came the leaked renders, leaked timelines, leaked features, leaked specs, and leaked UI for the webOS tablets, codenamed the Topaz and the Opal. As for what they would be called, HP filed for and was denied the PalmPad trademark (because it was too similar to Palm, which, you know, HP owned), so they went with TouchPad instead.
Our hopes started getting up with HP CEO Leo Apotheker said that the new webOS products were “ready” and would ship within weeks of the announcement. Then HP got all up and tease like, publishing a video with some shady renders and slapping a big tablet-like outline on the site.
February 9, 2011
So we trekked out to San Francisco to the Think Beyond event to see just what HP had in store for webOS. While sitting outside the venue we heard something funny – a last minute rehearsal where we overheard the TouchPad name (early bird gets the webOS tablet). Once finally in, the first thing we noticed was that the Palm brand was nowhere to be seen. And then everything kicked off, starting with the announcement of the 2.63-inch HP Veer, followed by the 3.7-inch Pre3, and then the 9.7-inch webOS tablet called the HP TouchPad, with future plans to expand webOS onto HP’s ship-two-every-second PCs. The Veer was to come in the spring, with the Pre3 and TouchPad in the summer. We went hands-on with all three devices and found out some bad news for current device owners: HP was dropping plans to update the currently available Pre and Pixi devices to webOS 2.0 (punch to the gut #1). Enraged users were assuaged (briefly) by HP’s promise to “make it right.”
But then we rushed right into the day’s developer event, formally introducing the world to the Enyo application framework to be used on the TouchPad. Current Mojo apps were revealed to run in an “emulation window” on the TouchPad and we met HP’s new VP of Worldwide Developer Relations, Richard Kerris. It only took HP a few days to release the new Enyo SDK into the Early Release Program, allowing developers to get started on their new TouchPad apps.
And we wait
HP may have announced the Veer, Pre3, and TouchPad, but we were still months away from their availability. So what else to do but tease us with the devices getting ePrint (nope), a TouchPad demo at MWC, how webOS will work on PCs, in music videos, and playing games. The TouchPad itself also popped up for the camera and Apotheker admitted that HP “takes too long” to get stuff done. Leo also finally gave us a release timeframe more specific than “planned for summer,” saying that the TouchPad would launch in June.
The Verizon Pre 2 also finally launched and was available for free with a contract within a month. On the developer front, HP in March finally lifted the NDA veil off the webOS 2.0 SDK and announced a series of developer events and meetups for around the world. Well, the United States and Europe.
There were some interesting leaks in the meantime, like photos of an unannounced Verizon Pre3 and the never-again-seen webOS slate phone. We also went hands-on with the webOS 3.0 beta emulator, showing you how it all worked and looked. There was also a more-detailed description of HP’s plans for Music Synergy and a webOS 3.0 beta 2 emulator walk-through.
The first of the Think Beyond devices, the Veer, finally got a release date, nailed down as May 15, for $99 on contract, available in both black and white. Amusingly, that was the same day as the then-massive 4.5-inch Samsung Infuse 4G. We set about reviewing the Veer, finding it to be shockingly tiny but still about as functional a device as you could fit in that much space. Strangely, HP pulled off the ultimate “soft launch,” planning to kick off advertising for the Veer weeks after it became available. And then they went and wrapped a subway train, took out the back page of the New York Times, and took over YouTube before finally airing some ads.
The Veer and Pre3 were merely products in the pipeline when HP bought Palm. The TouchPad, well that’s another story. HP wanted it to do hugely well, so they started the groundwork for a massive advertising campaign, doing things like signing boxer Manny Pacquiao and actor Russell Brand to promote the tablet. They also sent select developers TouchPads for app development and held developer workshops in Sunnyvale. HP execs talked big talk and Best Buy and Wal-Mart got display setups.
In a move to prepare for the TouchPad launch, HP permanently shut down the open-to-anybody App Catalog, beta, and web distribution app feeds (punch to the gut #2). It might seem relatively inconsequential, but the open feeds were a sort of public sign of the openness of webOS – anybody could make an App Catalog viewer if they wanted to.
In early June we finally got a release date and pricing for the TouchPad: July 1st, starting at $499.99, one year to the day after HP completed their acquisition of Palm. HP immediately started going heavy with the videos. It wasn’t long after that that HP and retail partners opened up pre-orders for the TouchPad and started advertising. We also found out how HP intended to “make things right” for slighted webOS 1.4.5 owners - $50 off a $500 TouchPad.
And then came our truly epic 14,000-word review of the TouchPad, so amazing it broke our content management system and had to be split into two parts. In short, we found the TouchPad to be a competent tablet, but facing serious challenges in the marketplace from Android tablets and Apple’s iPad 2. Our review echoed that of our fellow tech writers, prompting Jon Rubinstein to send an encouraging note to HP staff.
Things were looking bad for the Pre3 from early on. While it was the webOS phone we all wanted, carriers like O2 UK weren’t all that interested. But multiple varieties managed to pass through the FCC and things were looking maybe possibly kind of up for Sprint. While all of the TouchPad ramp up was going down, we took some deep breaths, knowing that the launch would eventually come. Except not Sprint, because they and webOS aren’t friends anymore.
So we had the Veer and the TouchPad out, so what comes next? How about a 64GB white TouchPad and the 7-inch Opal tablet, with the Pre3 pushed back to the fall? And a 4G AT&T TouchPad too? Throw in an update to webOS 3.0.2 to address some user concerns, the HP Movie Store, international expansion, and some more advertising and now we’re cooking with gas.
Things start to get hairy
In a surprise move just two weeks after the TouchPad launch, HP shuffled Palm Global Business Unit manager Jon Rubinstein out of command and placed Stephen Dewitt in charge of the newly renamed webOS GBU.
A month after launch, HP slashed $100 off the TouchPad price, for what was supposedly a limited time to help kickstart sales. Plus $50 to early adopters to assuage their anger at the rapid price drop. Then the price drop became permanent, which isn’t a good sign, but maybe that could help? Retailers like Best Buy are reported to have massive stockpiles of TouchPads in their warehouses, and they’re not happy about it. Little did we know what was just days away at that point in early August...
August 16: The unlocked GSM Pre3 launches with no fanfare in the UK. We have to bother HP to get a statement acknowledging its availability.
August 17: The White 64GB 1.5GHz TouchPad launches with no fanfare in France. We again have to bother HP to get a statement acknowledging its availability. Clearly something is up.
All hell breaks loose
August 18: HP announces their plans to split the company into software and hardware entities, in the process cancelling webOS hardware development. It’s not a move that garners our approval, nor do the shareholders. Why? It’d cost too much to succeed (this is 49 days after the TouchPad launch). HP’s still trying to figure it out, as even key executives have no clue what’s going on. Unsurprisingly, AT&T’s no longer interested in carrying the Pre3.
Looking to just offload what they’ve got as quickly as they can, HP pulls the fire sale lever, blowing out the TouchPad inventory starting at $99 for the 16GB model. Lo and behold, people want one now. So much so that HP decided to make a final run, though really that was mostly to clear out supplier parts inventory.
And so began the pursuit of a new home for webOS.
Not done yet
HP was still trying to figure out what to do with webOS, but neither they nor the users were done with it just yet. In early September the webOS GBU was split in two, dooming the hardware half to layoffs. October brought an update to webOS 3.0.4 and Picsel Smart Office.
Pre3 - it lives
Bye bye Leo, hello Meg
We had actually gotten our first preview of Apotheker’s madness all the way back in January. But it took until September for the HP board to realize it, firing Apotheker on the 22nd and bringing in former eBay CEO and HP board member Meg Whitman as the new HP CEO, though things weren’t going to change quickly. But it didn’t actually take long for Meg to shift HP’s split-the-company plan into reverse.
Enyo for everybody
Just over a month after taking the helm at HP, Meg Whitman made it official: HP was not going to split in two. But what about webOS? They were still trying to figure that one out. Though that $3.3 billion they lost has to be weighing on their minds as they make that decision.
There was a seven-inch webOS tablet too. Codenamed Opal, it turned out to be the TouchPad Go. It never was announced, and never was released, yet still got some camera time. And we reviewed it in our typical fashion, even tough you’ll never be able to buy one. Why not, eh?
The brain drain continues
Joe Hayashi left for Numenta. Shane Robison retired. Richard Kerris left for Nokia. Phil McKinney retired. Chuq Von Rospach resigned. Dozens more lower level webOS employees fled for the job security of HP's Silicon Valley rivals.
At least the world of homebrew proved to still be awesome. We got the Pre 2 hacked onto Sprint and hacked webOS 2.x onto the Pre and Pre Plus. Plus the release of freeTether, the Advanced System patches, Tweaks, and plenty more awesomeness. The webOS Nation community even raised a whopping $16,700 for WebOS Internals. Homebrew rocks, yo.
Looking forward to 2012
2009 into 2010 looked pretty good with CES and the Pre Plus coming up. 2010 in 2011 looked awesome, with HP backing webOS. 2011 into 2012 is the most uncertain New Year we’ve had for the webOS Nation. Open source could be a great thing, or it could be the slow sinking of webOS. All we know is that there’s no other community we’d rather be in that ship with.
2012 should be an interesting year for webOS and the mobile community at large. We can’t wait.