How the webOS update process works
Or, “Why we didn’t see webOS 1.4 yesterday as was rumored.”
With multiple carrier partners, Palm’s update schedule for webOS has a tendency to leak out, especially from Sprint. Rarely has the leaked date lined up with the actual release, but before now that hasn’t been a huge deal. We’re writing this to address the consternation in the comments and forums over the fact that the webOS 1.4 update was not pushed out on the 15th as had been leaked.
Updates to webOS are a multi-step process between Palm, developers, and carriers. We'll break down how it all works after the break.
Palm crafts an update to webOS, does some internal testing, and then seeds it to developers and carriers. Developers get the update early so that they can test their apps and update if necessary. These developers have signed a non-disclosure agreement with Palm, so if you ask them, they aren’t going to tell you that there is an update running on their phone or in their emulator. At least, they shouldn’t. While Palm isn’t apt to pursue legal action against a developer if they leak information about an update, they would be well within their rights to revoke certain privileges from that developer.
The carriers get the update for their own testing and approval. What they are checking is that this update meets their quality control standards, as they are both the seller of the device and provider of the service needed to power it. If they are dissatisfied with any aspect of the update they can request that Palm make additional changes prior to release.
The carrier is where most update delays originate. Each carrier has their own review process and quality standards. Some like Sprint are pretty lax and seem to push out updates more quickly, while others like Verizon have a history of testing and update until there isn’t a single thing left to test. The corporate philosophy of Verizon seems to be changing, so that may no longer be the case, but we have yet to see a major update come through since the “new” Verizon began with the Motorola Droid.
Once the update is approved by the carrier, we run into a slight muddying of the waters on where the process goes from there. It is unclear whether the updates are pushed out by the carrier, which would explain the staggered release schedule of previous webOS updates, or if they are released by Palm directly. If the latter is the case, it would seem to reason that Palm has been pushing the updates as soon as they got carrier approval. Either way, the update eventually ended up on our phones.
The leaked update date that we saw for webOS 1.4 was in all likelihood the date that Sprint expected the update to be released. There are a number of items that could factor into the delay. Sprint, another carrier, or Palm could have found a bug in 1.4 and have submitted a new version for review, pushing back the anticipated date. All the newness in 1.4 could have bogged down Sprint’s review process and they missed their own deadline. Sprint could have been flat-out wrong. We might have been duped (unlikely; the leaked sheet is very much Sprint-style authentic). If Palm handles the pushing of approved updates, they may be holding webOS 1.4 for a global release until it’s approved by all carriers - or the end of February is upon them.
Generally it takes a few weeks from Palm seeding the update to developers and carriers to when the update is released. Now, a few weeks is not any sort of guarantee for an update release, sometimes it takes longer, sometimes it happens faster. (As an ironic aside, February 15th was also a rumored launch date for the Palm Pre - in 2009. People got all worked up over Palm "missing" that date as well, when all that was promised was "first half of 2009.")
At the very least, we should still see webOS 1.4 in some form by the end of the month. Palm publicly promised that on stage at CES. There’s a reason we filed the leaked update under “rumors” and approached it with cautious optimism. It doesn’t always pan out. Take this to heart: webOS 1.4 is coming this month. Just not yesterday.