Phoenix finally reveals the first step in their plan: webOS on Android
It was a little over six months ago that we first reported on the newly formed Phoenix International Communications, a group of dedicated webOS fans that in the wake of HP's decision to cancel webOS hardware and open source the operating system, decided that they were going to work to make their own webOS hardware. At least, eventually. The intervening six months have been a little weird, as far as the public face of Phoenix was concerned. All too often we'd see odd public pronouncements from Phoenix representatives stating that they were going to do make things right and the like. What exactly that meant, we didn't know, but we'll admit that after a while we stopped paying attention.
Though the long term goal for Phoenix is to produce their own webOS hardware, that's likely a long way and lots of money away. As they said when they announced themselves back in March, the first steps for Phoenix would be to port Open webOS onto existing Android devices, though they'd be making some improvements along the way. Our assumption was that they would port Open webOS in much the same manner as WebOS Ports, by providing a dual-boot solution for specific devices. Turns out, they've got something that seems a bit more audacious in mind.
You can see the initial fruits of their labor in the poorly lit video after the break, but honestly the video doesn't really explain things well. Phoenix's developers have been working on running webOS as an app on Android instead of as a standalone operating system. While this could have some level of a performance hit from running webOS on top of Android instead of in lieu of Android, it would provide users greater flexibility in terms of their user interface and app selection choices by having both operating systems running simultaneously.
You could call it a virtual machine or emulation or whatever you want, in the end it's a flexible solution to a difficult problem. They actually like to think of webOS on Android as working much the same was as webOS does on existing devices - the Linux core is booted and then the webOS UI with LunaSysMgr is booted on top of that.
It's an ambitious idea, and one that's going to take a lot of work to make it happen. As Phoenix was upfront in admitting to us, their webOS-on-Android job right now isn't exactly stable and crashes almost immediately (thus why the video only shows up to the webOS lock screen). The hope, though, is that the work of getting webOS running as an app inside Android will provide them with greater flexibility going forward. Ostensibly, such a solution would be easier to install on an Android device and be available for a wider array of devices (less per-device tweaking on the kernel and driver level would be needed).
As for a timeframe and how exactly this will be distributed, that's not something Phoenix is ready to discuss; as we said it crashes right after boot, so there's still a lot of work to be done before anybody starts talking about distribution, pricing, and the like. In the meantime, Phoenix plans to keep hard at work on their webOS-on-Android solution.
Whether Phoenix International Communications can stop being such an enigma or not remains to be seen. The random lofty affirmations on Facebook and Twitter haven't entirely gone away, and while they might be meant to be positive reinforcement for the webOS community, too often they backfire with weary skepticism. There's the added complication that many involved with Phoenix don't want to be publicly identified, including those at the top. They claim that they, like everybody else in Phoenix, are unpaid volunteers with full time jobs that for whatever reason look down on having a side job or independent business plans. Whether or not that's a good excuse for the poor communication job too date is debatable, but it doesn't change that Phoenix is finally showing something - anything - to back up some of the talk.