Guest Editorial: Why should HP license webOS to other smartphone makers?
When we first took a look a few weeks ago at the possibility of HP licensing out webOS to other manufacturers, of which Samsung was named a possibility, there was a lot of polarizing discussion that rippled throughout our community here. The opinions were clear; HP could license out webOS and lose full control over their market to bring fragmentation and malware, much like Android, or they could keep webOS all for themselves and on HP hardware, which users are becoming more and more disenchanted with.
In this guest editorial, Dominique Bashizi tries to bring all of those conversations back to a single point. Click through the break to read on, and give Dominique your ear for a few minutes. He has a lot of great things to say, and we think that it could start up those important discussions once again about that big question that has been sitting in the corner of the room for so long.
"Why should HP license webOS to other smartphone makers?"
The short answer? Android.
Now with the long answer. Ever since it came out in 2009, webOS has been almost universally lauded as the best mobile OS for multi-tasking and for general “intuitiveness” and “ease of use”. Not faint praise at the time, when Apple had just redefined the space with the iPhone and iOS.
Despise the initial positive reception, some consistent criticism has been leveled at webOS since 2009:
- Poor hardware performance
- Not enough applications in the App Catalog (HP/Palm’s version of Apple’s App Store), and lack of developer support
- Lack of a “flagship” device (aside from the TouchPad, which we’ll address separately)
Let’s forget about Palm and their various issues for the purpose of this article. HP owns webOS now, and its future rests squarely in their hands.
"Fighting the Apple Battle"
That said, let’s take a step back and consider what Apple has been able to achieve in the smart phone market. They were able to completely redefine the space of “mobile phone-based computing”. They chose to do so by introducing a new O.S., and by controlling the hardware. This led to great success initially, but I would argue that we have already started to see the proverbial “crack in the armor”.
As with the P.C. era, Apple refused to give up control of the hardware, and thus refused to license iOS to other manufacturers. And as with the P.C. era, another company came along with an arguably lesser product, and decided to let any manufacturer use it. This time, it was Google with Android, instead of Microsoft with Windows.
Android has done amazingly well since its initial release, and Google recently announced that they are activating 500,000 Android devices a day1. To put things in perspective, current projections2 predict that Android will own almost 40% of the worldwide smartphone market, vs. 20% for iOS, by the end of this year.
Three years ago, Android was barely on the map, and Apple was taking the industry by storm and redefining the space for everyone else. A year or so later, it seemed almost impossible for the established players to stay ahead of Apple, let alone have a newcomer steal the show. So, how did Google do it?
Leaving aside the technical details, and oversimplifying the business aspects a bit, Google basically undercut Apple by licensing Android and letting any manufacturer fight the “Apple battle” for them. And it doesn’t hurt that Android is free.
"How to market an operating system"
Android may not have been able to compete with iOS feature for feature, but it didn’t have to. Because while Apple was offering a single handset, albeit a very good one, on a single carrier (in the U.S.), Google’s partners were offering regular size phones, jumbo phones, phones with physical keyboards,
cheap phones and expensive phones on every single major network in the U.S. Google let their partners fight their battle for them. Even the success of the “Droid” brand on Verizon is largely attributed toVerizon’s advertising efforts, not Google’s.
And while Google was busy gaining ground with a “good”, but not “best of breed” mobile operating system, what were Palm/HP doing with their “best of breed” OS? They were busy coming out with phones like the Pre, Pre 2 and Pre 3. Which are all phones that were fairly well spec’d and competitive when they were announced, but that were all (even the Pre 3, which hasn’t officially come out yet) already out of date by the time they actually came out.
Let’s consider the Pre 3 specifically. Since it was announced in February 2011, at least 8 new Android handsets have been announced on Verizon alone3 and several of those have already been released, with specifications that are significantly better than the Pre 3, including the ability to use Verizon’s new LTE network.
It does not matter whether the Pre 3 is better, despite lesser specs. It does not matter whether webOS offers a better user experience. It does not matter that some people still want a portrait slider form factor. When Android can generate so much buzz and excitement just with its devices, it’s simply not a fair fight for buyers’ attention.
HP has only two choices. Either they figure out how to accelerate their own hardware development life cycle, or they look for help from other outstanding hardware manufacturers in the space. Either way, webOS, as good as it is, cannot capture the public’s imagination on its own. It needs help from the hardware side of the house. Even Apple, with all its marketing might, its “head start” in the space (given that it redefined it before everyone else woke up and decided to play catch up) and its engineering prowess is struggling to keep up with the onslaught of Android devices.
"It's hard to sell an idea, so sell some phones instead"
webOS is also so much of an “experience”. You have to see it, use it, live with it and experience it in order to understand just how much better than your current software it is. It’s the catch 22 webOS has been caught in since its inception. People need to “see it to believe it”, but there hasn’t been enough exciting hardware to bring people to the table in the first place.
And without the buzz and excitement associated with top-of-the-line hardware, HP will continue to struggle to generate public interest, and therefore struggle to garner support from the developer community. All the talk about including webOS on printers and other devices may be visionary, but there is no evidence that these additional devices (and even PCs) will allow developers to capitalize on their webOS development efforts.
The TouchPad is somewhat separate from this discussion because the Tablet market is still in its infancy, and the only established player at the moment is Apple, so HP still has a strong chance to carve out its own corner, especially as it approaches the space from the enterprise, where Apple does not have nearly the same foothold that it has on the consumer side.
The TouchPad and the Tablet market notwithstanding, the status of Web OS is unfortunately largely the same now as it was 21/2 years ago. Every user who’s ever had a chance to use it for a while swears by it, but not enough users get their hands on it. HP, it’s time you seek help getting more devices into more users’ hands. webOS deserves as much.