The Curiously Sad Case of webOS 2.0 App Development
When HP announced that they were going to be buying Palm early last year, we were all eagerly awaiting to see what changes would come to the brand. As those changes were found out by the public through numerous leaks and announcements, the webOS community began to get really excited. I received dozens of phone calls from developers looking to build new applications using advanced webOS 2.0 API's and integrating features like Just Type and Exhibition Mode. People were genuinely happy with the future that HP was showing us.
Fast-forward to today, just after the February 9th announcements and release of webOS 2.1 on the Pre 2, and you may notice something peculiar. The development community has slowed down dramatically, and it's starting to look like some have jumped ship just as things are starting to get exciting again. HP has delivered on the goods that they promised, and now we find ourselves with a lack of new apps to play with that are built for webOS 2.x devices.
To see what I mean, open up your webOS 2.x App Catalog (or find someone who can do it for you) and look for apps that tie into the new API's. While two dozen is twice as many apps than were released on the original launch day Pre, that's a far cry from what was expected from us a few months ago. And considering how many apps don't work in 2.0 because the developers haven't updated them yet (from 1.4.5), we may actually have fewer apps available for the Pre 2 (and the many hacked devices out there with 2.1) than on a device with webOS 1.4.5 installed.
That's just sad... really, really sad....
Read more after the break.
Update: Be sure to read Richard Kerris' response in the comments on this article below - great news contained therein:
We will release the SDK and remove the NDA for 2.0 THIS week. There’s no rational excuse that it took us so long to do it, so I won’t try and coat the obvious
Besides the fact that many developers just don't have their devices yet to do proper testing on, there are some good reasons for them to wait before continuing with their projects. Most don't have access to the Enyo SDK yet, and since it is so different than the familiar Mojo environment, they are going to wait for Enyo to be finalized and released. Others are developing for the highly anticipated TouchPad, which isn't expected to release until June this year. And others just want to see if webOS is ever going to grow, as HP's CEO expects it to, before they dedicate so many hours to what they believe could be a failing OS.
There's also the growing frustration that developers are being left on their own as webOS becomes fragmented across multiple devices and frameworks. Questions are raised: Do I develop for webOS 1.4.5 since I don't have a Pre 2 yet, or do I wait to see if I can get 2.0 some other way? Should I use the soon-to-be-antiquated Mojo to build my app, or wait till Enyo is ready to use for live projects? The 2011 webOS development roadmap is confunsing at best, something VP of worldwide developer relations Richard Kerris has acknowledged. Finally, I have to mention that despite the fact that the unlocked Pre 2 has been on the market for some time, the Verizon Pre 2 has been released, and European Pre Plus phones have an official 2.1 upgrade path, the webOS 2.x SDK is still under NDA. That's flat-out ridiculous.
Who can blame them for wanting to wait (or give up entirely) on the future? I can't. However, I do also believe there is another solution to the problems that have been created....
Waiting does not mean "stand still"
While those questions that have been asked are waiting for answers, many developers have stopped their efforts so that they waste no time on a project that will not get the most ROI. If they build for Mojo, they'll have to recreate all of their work in Enyo later on to be compatible on future devices. If they build for webOS 2.0, they risk losing a vast majority of their current target market who simply cannot access their app to purchase it. Plus, who wants to buy a Pre 2 to develop with now, when the Veer, Pre 3 and TouchPad (with webOS 3.0) are all just around the corner?
If a developer had asked me two months ago which platform they should release an app on to get the most success, I would have told them webOS. A small catalog and passionate userbase means that their app would see much more success once webOS is launched with the immense HP scale than on any other platform. Today, that sentiment is even stronger. With only two dozen or so apps available to take advantage of webOS 2.0 features, opportunity for huge growth is waiting to be used. Developers should be building for webOS 2.0 now, and not later, if they want to see the most growth.
But it's more than just about growth, it's also about testing the user experience and creating a strong following around your brand. Build an app in Mojo for webOS 2.0 today so that you can see how people respond to your application and experience it. When Enyo is ready for widespread use, you'll be happy you took the time to get so many problems corrected in the first version of your app. Create an experience that your users will never forget, and with each subsequent release (including one to switch over to Enyo) they'll create buzz organically that you've updated your app, and you'll see new customers added.
Don't forget to create a brand
Probably more importantly than actually continuing the development process of app creation is continuing to build a highly desired brand. Even if you aren't sure about releasing updates or creating your own apps, by showing you are actively involved in the community and helping others finish their projects, you are building trust and loyal fans for when you do finally take that step. Those are the invaluable people (the ones who help you improve and evangelize your product) that you need if you're going to create something great.
The best time to get ahead in the game is to start before anyone else does. Bottom line is, if you keep waiting for HP to make a move so that you can, by the time they do you'll already be behind. Take the chance now to build for Mojo and learn Enyo (if you have access). Integrate 2.0 features (like Just Type, Exhibition Mode and Enhanced Synergy API's) into your current apps to create a whole new experience for your users right now. Get in tight with the developer community and make some friends with people at Palm HQ while building your brand with the consumers.
When you take the time to prepare yourself for success, then you will follow that pattern and eventually succeed. If you prepare yourself by waiting on HP or Enyo or the TouchPad, then you'll follow that pattern too; there will be no end to your wait. How do I know this? Well, just look at the webOS community and where it is right now - we waited for big news on February 9th, and we got it!
Yet there's still only a few dozen apps in the catalog that are built for 2.0, and many people are waiting for the next announcement to drag us out of the desert. What will it take to break the habit and start making some progress with the app catalog right now?I know, it's the text editor sitting on your desktop waiting to be opened.
If you have an idea for an app, or want to help other developers get their projects finished, then you need to invest your time in it now rather than waiting on the future. If we do decide to stand still for a few months until other devices are shipped, then it'll be too late. You're not only risking someone else stealing your idea, but you're also helping strengthen webOS' place when ranked against other mobile platforms. That is, in last place.
If you're a developer and you want to succeed with webOS and HP, you have one simple task, keep building your apps now. If you're a user, then encourage the developers that you no to take advantage of the important times we're in. That's it, just one simple idea and you can help webOS become the success we've been imagining for two years.
Get to it, and good luck.