From the editor's desk: Blogging about webOS makes me rip out my hair
After three years, four months, one week, and two days of blogging about webOS, you'd think I would have gone bald by now. Surprisingly, in spite of everything that Palm and HP have thrown my way, I haven't yet noticed my hairline receding or patches along the sides where I've repeatedly grabbed onto my hair and screamed profanities at my computer at whatever boneheaded, boggling, or brash thing came out that week from Sunnyvale over the past one thousand two hundred twenty eight days. Perhaps I have good follicles.
Among the flabbergast-inducing events I've witnessed and blogged:
- Palm releasing poor hardware and software not fully ready for primetime, despite announcing it six months earlier.
- Verizon completely botching the launch of a product that could have saved Palm.
- Palm previewing webOS 2.0 and the Pre 2 and not releasing either for six months.
- HP dumping the worthy Palm name because they couldn't secure the PalmPad trademark due to a USPTO oversight.
- HP scuttling a promised updated to webOS 2.0 because the carriers didn't care enough to test it.
- HP launching the tiny Veer smartphone before the Pre3 and TouchPad, and then barely giving it an advertising push.
- HP killing the public App Catalog feeds so they could surprise us with an underwhelming selection when the TouchPad launched (and for technical it-couldn't-keep-going-like-this reasons).
- HP launching the Pre3 and an unannounced White TouchPad in Europe without realizing it.
- HP canceling all webOS hardware two days later, just seven weeks after the TouchPad launched, citing poor sales.
- HP taking four months to figure out what to do with webOS.
- HP deciding to open source webOS, and then releasing a version that only runs as an app on 32-bit Ubuntu desktops and a version meant to be embedded in random hardware but without a UI.
- HP having a roadmap that ends this month without offering any hints of what comes after 30 September.
Sometimes I have to ask myself why I continue to write about webOS. I have two active TouchPads (one for testing wacky stuff like Android and alpha versions of new software) and a Pre3. I also have an iPhone 4S and a MacBook Pro. I'm not wedded to webOS or HP.
The reasons I do this are many. For one, I love to write, and I know webOS from many perspectives (user, technical, sales, etc) far better than most tech writers out there. I am in love and wedded to the webOS community, and managing webOS Nation my way of doing my part, especially now that we're pretty much the only game in town. It's satisfying being king of the hill, even if it's a small hill that nobody is fighting over anymore. I do also get paid for it, but I wanted to I could easily just dump webOS and move to blogging for iMore and Android Central (which I do a bit of on the side, just to keep busy).
But I suppose the biggest reason I keep doing this is because I believe webOS is great. It's down on its luck and somewhat out of date and yet still ahead of the curve, but it's still a great operating system. I do this in spite of the idiocy that has befallen webOS at the hands of Palm, Sprint, Verizon, and HP. webOS is the little engine that could, but it's never been put onto solid tracks that lead up to the summit. I'm not saying that webOS could have been the top dog in the mobile space had everything gone right, but circumstances, mistakes, and often times a lack of 'gives a damns' from third parties certainly didn't make things easier.
I do this because webOS did not fail. It drives me mad when I see reputable tech news sites discussing webOS as a 'failed' operating system or a 'failed' experiment for HP. webOS under HP did not fail. webOS under HP was not given enough of a chance to fail. If you take up painting, practice for a year, and then try to get your work in an exhibit but after seven weeks haven't been able to get somebody to hang your canvases, have you failed? No. You fail when you give up, and that's exactly what HP did with webOS. They gave up because it was going to cost a ton of money to get it right, something HP should have known from the start.
Which brings me to today. HP CEO Meg Whitman is out there, talking to the press, and asked about smartphones from HP, she says that's "ultimately" something HP is going to have to do. HP did smartphones. I'm looking at an HP Pre3 right now running webOS 2.2.4. It's a damn good phone, even for being eighteen months old from its announcement date.
HP has some of the parts they need to make a good smartphone. They expertise in hardware (that Envy x2 Windows 8 tablet looks mighty nice) and they have an operating system all their own that they've spent the better part of two years pumping money, time, and personnel into. Of course, HP did manage to lay off all of their hardware engineers with experience in making modern smartphones, so there is that against them.
I've never been one to play the ignorant cheerleader. Palm was not the best, nor was HP ever the best. There is no best, every OS brings something better to the table than its competitors, and every OS falls short in some way too. I've never been shy of calling out Palm or HP for their mistakes, nor offering my unsolicited advice on how I as a passionate outside think they should be running their business. I'm not the best either, I don't know everything that goes on behind the scenes, nor do I have a deep understanding of how things work from the 1's and 0's perspective.
If HP's to make a new smartphone, as Whitman claims they are, I'd honestly be surprised if it ran webOS. Nay, I'd be shocked. HP is done with webOS and has been for months. That's why they're open sourcing it, that's why they're spinning the webOS Global Business Unit off as a separate company. HP's not going to make a new webOS tablet or smartphone. They burned that bridge and many others a year ago.
But what future will little 'ole Gram have? It's impossible to say, because I even have to speculate about what exactly it is that Gram is going to do. Without knowing the what and the why of Gram, I can hardly comment on the thought of how well they'll do it. Look, I'm pulling out my hair again.
Recently the biggest issue I've had has been the holding pattern. For the past year I, this site, and the webOS community have been in a holding pattern. First while we waited for HP to figure out what they were going to do with webOS, and now while we wait for HP to finish open sourcing webOS and hoping, praying that we'll be able to install it on something useful. There's part of me that fears HP's just going through the motions of open sourcing, doing the minimal work to meet their commitment, and then spinning off Gram to flounder on their own. I sincerely hope that's not the case, but that little voice in the back of my head that was nagging at me before has been jumping up and down screaming and yelling since the Open webOS beta was released.
I don't want to go bald. I don't think that's being vain, though it really shouldn't matter. I'm still relatively young, I've got a while before my hair starts going. In the meantime, after everything that's gone down over the past one hundred seventy five weeks, I've calmed down quite a bit over smartphones, tablets, and mobile operating systems. I've gained a lot of perspective.
Smartphones are not the most important things ever. They're not even in the top ten. Nor are tablets, operating systems, open source processes, or really anything else associated with the development, manufacturing, or sale of mobile devices. I don't live and breath webOS like I used to (and that's not because I've also got an iPhone).
So while we continue in this holding pattern, wondering when and where we're going to land with webOS, or if we're going to ever land at all or just run out of fuel somewhere between potential destinations, I'm going to resolve to pull out my hair less over things like smartphones and tablets. There's plenty of stuff happening in the world that's worthy of my stressing about, and smartphones just don't make that list anymore (at least until mine starts misbehaving, in which case it vaults to most important thing ever in history until it's fixed).
Wait… is that a gray hair?