Opinion: A device-independent webOS future
Like all of you, I was thrilled to see HP's announcement yesterday of its upcoming February 9th event in San Francisco. Like all of you, I have also been wondering about the slogan "Think Big. Think Small. Think Beyond." Given that slogan, the mentions of a cloud service by Jon Rubinstein in his allthingsD interview last month, and the inspiration of PreCentral forum member ka1 who apparently got a rare Palm Foleo for Christmas, I have a prediction for what HP will announce: a new device-independent era for webOS, where users can switch seamlessly in real-time among phones, tablets and other webOS-running machines without caring, because everything is always there and current.
Imagine you own two webOS devices: a next-gen smartphone and a PalmPad tablet. The phone uses both WiFi and cellular data; the PalmPad is WiFi only, but is set to automatically tether to the phone if it's nearby and no known WiFi access point is available; the PalmPad also has a VoIP app to make calls via the smartphone's service. You've got a single Palm Profile, linked to a dedicated HP cloud-based service, which not only provides backup of accounts and app purchases, but syncs the entire device in real-time whenever possible. (The sync would be designed to prioritize updated data over static, and to adjust its scheduling and speed based on bandwidth and battery levels as well as user preferences.) You've always got the smartphone in your pocket, but you only grab the PalmPad when you think you'll need it.
One day, you've left the PalmPad at home, but it turns out you need to access a document you've been writing on it. No problem; although the screen's much smaller, the document is available on your smartphone as well, since it automatically synced from the PalmPad up to the cloud. A week later, you realize that you've left your smartphone on the subway, although happily your PalmPad is safe and snug in your knapsack. No problem; you walk into a coffeeshop, connect to its WiFi network on your PalmPad, use it to issue a remote wipe command that only affects your smartphone, and head to the local cellphone carrier store to replace the smartphone hardware via your insurance. Within the hour, you've got a new phone, you log into the same profile, and poof, all your apps, data and even photos start appearing on it. It may take some time to get everything loaded, especially via cellular data speeds, but that's okay too: you've still got the PalmPad, and everything is already on it. (Of course, any apps that function on one of the devices but not the other, like the PalmPad's VoIP app, will only sync to the one on which they work.)
What about other devices? Suppose that you want to print that document, but for whatever reason you have neither your phone or the PalmPad with you. You do, though, have access to an HP networked printer running webOS. You just walk over to the printer, log in using your existing Palm Profile, and the printer's screen lists all printable files stored in your profile. You tap on one, it prints, you log out, and walk away. A web-based interface could provide similar access on any networked computer, as Amazon does with Kindle books.
This is a logical extension of everything that HP has leaked or hinted at, as well as the realization of the innovative-but-never-finalized (and probably patented) Foleo model. It builds on what Palm is already doing with the cloud, but also leverages HP's enterprise-level infrastructure, the availability of super-cheap mass storage, the growth of higher-bandwidth 4G cell connections and ubiquitous WiFi. It potentially makes compliance for regulated industries much easier (assuming HP provides the kind of security and backup it knows how to do), and avoids any IT-resource-hogging desktop or local server management. It also blows away anything Apple is doing with MobileMe or Google with its apps, while giving the user much more control. It's both evolutionary and revolutionary. It's big, it's small, it's most definitely beyond, and I want it now.