2012: The webOS Year in Review
Oh, what a whirlwind year it was for webOS in 2012. From unbelievable highs to unimaginable lows, we've been through it all and we're coming out on the other side looking forward to whatever it is that 2013 has to offer. So let's take a look back at the year that was 2012 and see what all actually happened...
In the App Catalog
We finally got a music identification service with Song ID, and it works pretty darn well. Not perfect, but pretty good. And once you've idenitified that music, you can listen to it on Pandora with your TouchPad thanks to Apollo Radio.
New and exciting games were few and far between, but there's one standout that to this day still consumes a decent chunk of our free time: Hexage's goofy retro-space-age tower defense Radiant Defense. When it comes to Twitter clients, there's one that really stood out in 2012, and that's Sparrow, coded up by Arthur Thornton. Sparrow's a fine client, and it's going to get even better with a rewrite in 2013 to Enyo 2. SynerGV 2 brought excellent Google Voice messaging integration to webOS smartphones and Just Say showed us the power of voice control on webOS, albeit in Chinese.
Things weren't all roses in the App Catalog, though. A number of apps were abandoned or shut down, including some popular entries like the Carbon and Graphite Twitter clients, which were unceremoniously killed shortly after receiving much-needed updates. And prolific webOS developer Inglorious Apps pulled support for his work, which includes a number of favorites like Notes HD and Glimpse. Two webOS services also bit the dust: Voogle for Google Voice and the Metrix app analytics suite.
And that's not mentioning the time the App Catalog went quite for two weeks and when it came back how it was filled with invalid listings that made life a general pain in the ass.
And in the homebrew
While things may not have been as awesome as they could have been in the App Catalog, the homebrew app scene was as rocking as ever. 2012 got off to a good start with the release of App Tuckerbox, a neat little app and service that allowed users to restore the webOS App Catalog feeds to Preware. The aging Auto-Update Patch Technology was updated with the release of Auto-Update System Modification Technology that brought flexibility and updateability to fancier patches and themes. And speaking of themes, the be-all, end-all for themers arrived with the pick-and-choose theme implementer known as Theme Manager.
We got to dig into our TouchPads and Pre smartphones over the air with the obviously-named WiFi File Sharing, making it that much easier for us at webOS Nation to do our jobs. And if your job requires being out and about, you were no doubt pleased as punch by the release of and subsequent frequent and substantial updates to a feature-packed homebrew implementation of Google Maps for webOS tablets and smartphones. We know we were.
Open webOS and Enyo
Late in 2011 we got the news that HP was going to open source webOS. It was an interesting plan, cutting a middle road between investing billions and killing it outright. So early in 2012 we got our roadmap to Open webOS 1.0, and HP executed soundly on that plan. We got a new kernel, a new browser, a new hardware abstraction layer, and a new system manager. There was also a new Enyo that has gone cross-platform to the web and iOS and Android. Things for Enyo were thrown off-track by the sudden departure of the core of the development team, but things got rolling again with a grand hackathon in Sunnyvale and a full release of the Enyo 2 framework.
What we didn't get? A new update to this new Open webOS for our old webOS hardware. Why? Because your TouchPad isn't good enough, that's why. But it didn't take long after the release of Open webOS 1.0 for it to get up and running on new and more exciting hardware than your old TouchPad and Pre3…
But if you weren't ready to part with your TouchPad just yet, HP had a nice surprise up their sleeves with the release of webOS Community Edition. Comprised of an open-source-scrubbed version of the LunaSysMgr system manager - essentially the user interface of the TouchPad - Community Edition was quickly adopted by and run away with by open source group WebOS Ports, who released it through Preware as LunaCE with a number of improvements. To this point, LunaCE has baked in improved notifications, zooming cards, tabbed card stacks, a wave launcher, and so much more.
Open webOS Ports
And if the TouchPad just isn't your thing anymore in 2012, or especially going into 2013, fret not, for Open webOS is going places thanks to WebOS Ports. Within hours of release the open source operating system was demonstrated booting onto the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (an Android-powered device), and not long after that it found its way onto the Barnes & Noble Nook Color (kind-of-Android), the Windows-powered Samsung Series 7 Slate, the Asus Transformer Prime (definitely Android), and more.
But the Galaxy Nexus port continued to be the most impressive and visible project, starting with comprehensive build instructions for people like you and me (okay, not really me) that made it possible to get in on the action yourself. The port's implemented a number of improvements, including making Open webOS work on that size of a screen and giving it graphics to fit, as well as implementing a hidden smartphone-formatted virtual keyboard and more. All of this was assisted by a donation of tens of thousands of dollars of servers from HP to WebOS Ports.
And just today, this last day of 2012, we got more exciting news from WebOS Ports: they've got Open webOS up-and-running on the Google Nexus 7 tablet. 2013's looking good, eh?
The gang at WebOS Ports wasn't the only one getting in on the Open webOS action. Early in 2012 we were introduced to Phoenix International Communications, a group with the ultimate goal of producing their own webOS-powered hardware. That's a long ways off, so in the meantime they wanted to show off their interim plans: booting Open webOS on Android. The process essentially turns webOS into an Android app, instead of booting in place of Android. They've made progress over the months, but there's still a lot of work to be done in 2013.
$12,202.20 raised for homebrew. Is there any doubt the webOS Nation community is the best community ever?
Woe is HP
2012 was not a good year to be HP. The company that built Silicon Valley took a beating, both in the webOS sector and at large. Like the previous year, a number of bodies left the building in Sunnyvale, though few stung as much as the departure of former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein, the man that managed to bring us webOS. After that we lost chief architect Brian Hernacki, CTO Sam Greenblatt was forced out of webOS leadership due to conflicts and soon thereafter left HP for Dell, then the aforementioned core of the Enyo team followed by Developer Relations guru Lisa Brewster to Firefox. Speaking of Developer Relations, the team was without a head for months after the departure of Richard Kerris in 2011, so in March of 2012 Fred Patton took over and by May he'd also left for Nokia, leaving Enda McGrath in charge. And let's not forget the painful cleaver of the layoff axe that cleaved away half of the webOS staff in February.
All that drama was just in the webOS Global Business Unit. HP as a whole was rocked repeatedly. Late in 2011 the company revealed they were writing down $3.3 billion worth of losses from canceling webOS hardware development. 2012 saw an $8 billion writedown stemming from their 2008 purchase of EDS and an $8.8 billion writedown from the purchase of Autonomy, spurring a Department of Justice investigation into "improprieties" in Autonomy's accounting practices. And to think, HP wasn't willing to invest the billions of dollars necessary to make webOS a success back in 2011. It also wasn't necessarily a good time to be an HP employee, with the company settling on a nice round figure of 29,000 positions they want to have eliminated by 2014.
Thankfully for the webOS Global Business Unit, they might not count themselves as part of HP for much longer: the GBU is spinning off as a separate company called Gram that's going to focus on webOS, Enyo, and cloud stuff. They've got a logo and a website and everything.
Gram's money-making product is going to be webOS Professional Edition, a pumped-up and re-contented version of Open webOS that they'll offer to OEMs looking for an alternative to the likes of Android, Windows Phone, or going it alone. One of those OEMs? LG, and they're working on a webOS-powered HDTV, of all things. But don't expect to see it soon - better to take their time and get things right than to rush to market. We've seen what happens when webOS is rushed to market, and it's rarely pretty.
The long road behind us
If there was one thing that seemed to define the larger view of webOS through 2012, it was taking a look back at what had gone wrong with Palm, HP, and webOS on the road to today. There were disturbing looks into the disfunction of HP's leadership under Leo Apotheker and Ray Lane and extensive retrospectives on the behind-the-scenes development of webOS. With nothing defined to be looking forward to, there was a lot of time to dig into and dwell on the the past, producing nuggets like how long Mark Hurd had intended to let Palm do its own thing under HP for the time that he was CEO (three years) and that the TouchPad was originally created by HP as an Android tablet. And where did the hated Apotheker end up? Back in France, it would seem.
We got to learn a lot more about what was in the works at HP and Palm, including that the C40 was the unreleased Sprint Pre 2. We also spent some quality time with the seven-inch HP TouchPad Go and got a surprising glimpse at the previously unknown WindsorNot slate webOS smartphone thanks to a long-unnoticed slip-up by a contracted PR firm that sent us a nasty and entirely unwarranted DMCA takedown notice.
In 2012 we talked about pirates and fighting pirates. We went over what it takes to build a smartphone and pondered if we could get the money to do it. We blogged about blogging, ripped our hair out, and wondered why we get so worked up about things like smartphones and tablets. They're just tools, after all.
And the long road ahead
With the madness of 2012 behind us and the likely insanity of 2013 ahead of us, we're not going to try to make any prognostications about what the coming year will hold. Because we honestly couldn't in good faith give you any sort of answer that would make sense. So instead of offering empty predictions, we'll just leave you with the words of HP's ad gurus:
It's something you're born with, and lives inside you, inspires the things you choose to do, things that may not always change the world in a big way, but can change it in a million little ways. You do what you do because it matters. At HP we don't just believe in the power of technology, we believe in the power of people when technology works for you. To do the things that matter. To dream. To learn. To create. To work.
If you're going to do something, make it matter.