webOS, Android, and hacking: which is more open? | webOS Nation

webOS, Android, and hacking: which is more open? 63

by Tim Stiffler-Dean Wed, 29 Sep 2010 11:37 am EDT

Smartphones are tricky animals sometimes, especially if you’re a power user or geek (as many of us are these days). You want to get into the very guts of your device and find out all of the cool and secret things about it, try out leaked software and hack it all to hell. But unless you’ve got extra money lying around that you like to blow on new devices every few weeks, you definitely don’t want to do anything to actually brick your device.

Testing those limits is fun, but everyone gets upset when they go past the point of no return. Luckily for us webOS users, ‘bricking’ your device is near impossible aside from breaking the device in half. If you run into a problem with your device, just go to the Palm website and grab the webOS doctor for the version and carrier of your choice. There's a very clear set of steps you can go through to fix nearly any serious webOS issue.

Win/Win. You get to mess with your device and not worry (too much) about breaking it beyond repair.


Google's precarious position

On the other hand, though, people looking to hack away on Android devices run into more serious issues, as Engadget’s Nilay Patel explained in an excellent story about his recent dance with device-death.  I’ll spare you the details, but to sum it up, just read this statement from near the end of the article:

“Google can't keep implicitly condoning Android hacking and trading on the enthusiasm of its community unless it requires manufacturers to provide restore tools for every device. Sometimes you just want to go home again.”

When you create a platform that is going to be completely open to tinkering with and you encourage your community to actively mess with that platform, you ought to create some kind of backup plan. Google obviously knows this, but what can they do about it? With so many carriers and manufacturers using the OS on their devices, it makes it difficult for even Google to offer a backup plan. The "Open" in Android cuts both ways: it's open for users to hack, sure, but it's also open for manufacturers and carriers to try to prevent it. Whether Google can (or even wants to) exercise some muscle to resolve the situation remains an open question.

webOS - The Anti-Brick Platform

Now, take a look at the linux based webOS platform, which is also completely open to hacking / patching / theming / tinkering, and you can actually see the ‘ideal world’ that Patel imagines coming to reality:

“In my ideal world, consumers would be able to download official stock Android builds for their devices directly from Google, but I'm not ignorant of the carrier- and manufacturer-driven reality we live in.”

webOS has its fair share of carrier problems, but there is one key difference between what Palm has created and what these Android devices represent; You can actually restore the base OS for any webOS device using the official recovery tools provided by Palm. You don’t need suspicious flashing tools or malicious leaked OS versions. You get the perfectly clean and officially supported versions directly from the creators, no questions asked.

To be completely fair, webOS devices aren’t completely brick-proof, but the system is safe enough and simple enough that many of the processes that kill Android devices can be done by practically anyone who has the patience to learn the processes. You don’t have to flash ROMs or jailbreak your device and worry about any of the consequences that come with said actions. You just have to grab some install files (executables, ipks, source code, etc...) and the proper webOS Doctor (for emergency repairs) and go have some fun.

Say what you will about how big and active the Android developer community is, it is only a matter of time before they are educated about how awesomely open webOS really is. We get the same access to our devices that they do, with an amazing community to back it all up and the fail-safes to remove the chances for unnecessary loss. This is all just one more example of something that they could be educated about:

Want to dig into the webOS source-code and make crazy cool changes? Go right ahead.... Want to do that with Android? Just be aware that sometimes, there’s a brick for that. :P


I love webos but android apps have way more api's so that platform for now is more hackable but not brickproof. Webos will there soon 2.0!!!

"Want to dig into the webOS source-code and make crazy cool changes? Go right ahead.... Want to do with with Android? Just be away that sometimes, there

Everyone is a critic...

fix yours please...

Palm was brilliant to provide webOS Doctor so we can always reset to factory fresh.

Android will have to figure out how to do that eventually...

and "there's a brick for that" is the best line ever!

Pic is just Awesome!

I gotta agree. That's some nice, creative Photoshop work there.

Nice article, Tim. Glad PC found you!

I know that Saber is not being held on by the USB door! :P hahaha...

I mean who has one of those still?! lol

i do... on my original day one sprint palm pre :) which at 1GhZ and all kinda patches is still awesome :)

Mine broke off after a few days of owning it. My phone looks kind of ghetto but other that I actually find it to be really convenient that its not there anymore.

Have had my Pre since day one and use my USB often and still have mine.

+1000. LMAO

I'm on my third Pre, and never broke the door off of any of them (2 died due to touchscreen death within the first few months :().

Been about a year with my current Pre and the door's still there. Though that being said, I got a touchstone about 2 months after I hit my current Pre...

I see someone has been reading comments in past articles. Everyone wants to switch to an android phone for some reason, thinking their Pre is falling behind, outdated, etc. Its good to see an article that shows why WebOS is still a good choice. For the gadget geek in me, I enjoy being able to fully customize my phone to how I want it. And this article just adds to the article about not licensing WebOS out. If they did, even Palm might have a hard time helping us Pre users out with little things such as WebOS Doctor. They'd lose control. Im happy with my fully customizable Pre. And Im sure the next devise will be even more great.

Funny - those are the very reasons I went to Android...

I got so BORED with my Pre. Patching only kept me in the game for so long...

...and so bored at androidcentral that you still hang around here. I've noticed that the android forums are slow and dull.

more proof that PC members are waaay more fun, and waaaay more interesting.

and it also says that you will be open to grabbing the next Palm phone when it ships.

that's a good thing!

lol - My wife still has a Pre and loves it. But she's not a techy, so it's my job to make sure that she can take advantage of the cool new things that are made available on her phone.

Like, I just saw that there's a drumset app for the Pre now!! Awesome - my toddler will love that. (I'm being serious, for the record.)

@cantaffordit: I hear PC readers are better looking too!




Well hopefully your Android treats you right.

I think this is where the platform differences come into play. Palm is the sole distributor of its mobile software platform. So it's relatively easy for them to coordinate ROM images as there are only 4 devices to do that for.

Google on the other hand only distributes Android as an open source software project. Currently, its up to the manufacturers to provide this type of support to Android users...which will probably not happen. Android manufacturers are just spitting out handsets with little regard to customer support, where as Palm, Apple, and soon to be Microsoft (with Windows Phone 7) look to actively support their devices...(quick OS updates, stock restoration ability, etc.).

I think WebOS has the right amount of openness with none of the downfalls currently plaguing Android.

For the record, I am a Android user.

"So it's relatively easy for them to coordinate ROM images as there are only 4 devices to do that for."
*Actually* though there are only 4 devices, the Roms for every model of hardware on every carrier is different, since they have to have the carrier codes in there, default localization configs, as well as the stock carrier apps. So there's Sprint Pre, Sprint Pixi, Verizon Pre+, Verizon Pixi+, AT&T Pre+, AT&T Pixi+, O2 Germany Pre, etc etc for all models on all international carriers...

So, I *believe* that it's currently available on 12 carriers internationally, and 2 models on each carrier would make it roughly 24 different ROM images which Palm supports... Give or take...

WebOS wins for "hacking." It's easy to do and almost failsafe. No contest. But can you really call it "hacking" when you're not the one actually hacking and editing the code? It's certainly more accurate to call it "patching."

But Android has soooooooooooo many more possibilities with the APIs and the hardware. You don't even have to hack to have more functionality than WebOS. Voice search? Speech to text? Barcode scanning? Google Street View with compass? Star/sky maps?

But Palm did it right by using the same CPU as the iPhone - Android gaming has a long way to go due to lack of OS parity and varying hardware specs.

I'm now on Android with a rooted & overclocked custom ROM, but there are definitely things I miss about WebOS.

missing APIs like microphone access are following with 2.0 and Voice search/Speech to text will be there soon (with webOS-"hacking" you already have text to speech, which is a great example for our homebrew-community)
Barcode scanning? It's already on webOS but isn't working well because of the non-autofocus-camera of the PRE.
Google Streetview with Compas would be there, if the PRE had a compas .. but that problem will hopefully be solved with new hardware (PRE 2) So argumented reality'll be there soon, I believe.

What are you missing after that on webOS?

I agree with you, but you can't put a compass in a phone and still do touchstone. The magnets would screw up the compass. So it's one or the other. I prefer touchstone to some niche star atlas app

Well, congratulations - you just did nothing but make excuses and promise future features for software and hardware that may not even come out. And this is yet another reason why I moved to Android: broken promises. Can anybody say "Mojo Messaging"?? There are numerous things that I was REALLY looking forward to with my Palm Pre and I'm very VERY disappointed at the lack of follow-through. Thank GOD for the homebrew community who has found ways of bringing some of this functionality to us.

But really - don't get me wrong; I loved my Pre, and my wife still loves hers. I just wanted more.


WebOS will have the API's but we need an autofocus cam to do the other fancy-shmancy stuff.

I'm not complaining. Just wondering: Is pushing out WebOS 2.0 puttin the cart before the horse (horse being new hardware), or is it good planning for the future?

.... Or is it just a day late and a dollar short.

Man, I hope Palm catches up soon. I love my WebOS too much, but I keep having geekasms when I see new sexy hardware from everyone else and their mother.

Lol!...there's a brick for that...hahahahahahaha! Can HPalm put that in a commercial?

web os

This is somewhat a decent overview but I would like to see a more in-depth and detailed article on the subject from both sides of the spectrum. It's definitely a topic very worthy of a major discussion, you should contact Rod Whitby of webos-internals, he's seen both sides of the spectrum via webos-internals AND Android-Internals.

I haven't even read this yet, I just wanted to comment on the graphic: LOVE IT!

Good article

I sorry but with Android you can flash roms and you have root access, meaning you can put FROYO on a non FROYO phone can you do that with WEBOS NO. AS one who like SENECE can I put SENCES on a non SENCES phone and that iss more open to me. Is ANdroid in many other ways closed to the everyday user yes but do not forget about Symbian OS (new one) or Meego they are way more open and powerful than WEB OS and ANDROID. ANd that is because Symbian and Meego are open at the firkin operations leave even I can influence the direction of Symbian because it is not that hard to be part of the Symbian Foundation. But does it matter not really openness is just nice.

robnaj, I think you are missing the point. Yes you can flash ROMs but those ROMs are not provided by the manufacturer, nor are the tools used to flash that ROM onto the phone. Palm has an advantage in that they are the sole provider of the OS and the hardware, they do not have to account for lots of different changes that can be made along the way.

If the manufacturer would provide the tool and the ROM for their OSes on their phones it would be a completely equal playing field.

Not to mention with webOS all phones have the same version of the operating system (carrier update schedules asides). You don't have some phones running 1.2 and some running 1.3 and others running 1.4.5. When an update is released, all webOS users get it.

@robnaj --I'm sorry but you grammar and spelling make it hard to understand you

Let me just say that I returned a new EVO last week. I wanted to see the big deal. Yes, it's got a big beautiful screen. But its battery life makes the Pre seem like a Blackberry. And the OS--Oh No is more like it. I felt my finger trying to flick and swipe--it's the gesture area I missed most. I hated the HTC buttons, and HATED the so-called Android multitasking. I also missed cards. One of the nice things about cards is how easy it is to get rid of them and get them back. It may seem inefficient, but I actually enjoy the act of maximizing, minimizing, and flicking away. Which is one of the reasons, too, that I like the Sprint button that disappeared with the arrival of the Plus. I never got rid of my Pre--I just added a 3rd line on Sprint's Everything Family plan, thinking the EVO would be my new home number. Sorry. So not worth it.

"You don't have to flash ROMs" because Palm has already done that for you. One thing I greatly applaud Palm for doing, that was HUGE for the homebrew community. Without it, I think there would have been a lot less acceptance for patching then there has been.

The question I have is if HPalm comes out with 4 new devices on 10 different carriers will they change their tune? The only reason I ask this is if you look at all the permutations of device, version, and carrier it could quickly become unwieldy to manage that complexity.

I don't see that as an issue... because technically the ROM will already exist for each version because of the upgrade process.

Yes there will be complexity in the original creation/updates, but once the update is finished... all H/Palm has to do is provide a link to the ROM.

Let me recount a little story... on Saturday, my launch-day Pre finally took enough damage that it HAD to get replaced. I went down to the local Sprint store and found I had a decision to make... I could either pay the $100 deductible to get a new Pre (the damage was severe enough that they wouldn't just swap it for free under total protection, which was reasonable in my estimation) or use my upgrade credit that I had been saving for the new Palm phone and instead get a brand-spanking new Android device for only a little bit more money.

I figured I'd waited for new hotness long enough so why not try Android? If nothing else it gives me a chance to seriously look at the competition. And besides, my wife isn't as picky as me and likes my new phone already, and she has her $150 credit available on 10/1, so worse-case, she'll buy the new Palm and we'll have Sprint swap them and we'll both be happy.

So anyway, I picked up the Epic 4G (Samsung Galaxy S variant) and I've been playing with it ever since, and a large part of that time has been learning how to customize it and doing so... at this point, I think I can make a very valid comparison between the two platforms, since I've, as they say, literally "written the book" on webOS :) And I've done my share of tinkering besides, so...

The flaw in the arguments I see here is that it doesn't differentiate between the *levels* of customization (which I think is what most people mean when they say "hacking").

What I mean is this... with Android, I can customize the hell out of the thing. There's lots of options right out of the box, but that's not even what I mean. What I mean is the fact that I went into the Android market, grabbed an app for I think $.99, and I had an entirely new launcher. It gave me all sorts of fancy new effects, new features that I really needed and lots more options for customizing. This is akin to changing the launcher and dock on webOS... it's a pretty fundamental change and a pretty large facelift. That's a level of customization that, frankly, Android has webOS beat on and by a pretty large margin.

(of course, the fact that I had to do this at all is indicative of my underlying feelings about Android vs. webOS generally... put it this way: I'm MORE anxious for the new Palm phone having spent time with Android than I was before!)

The next level of customization is where things like the webOS homebrew community and Android rooting come into play. Now, clearly webOS wins here in ease... I have not rooted my Epic and at this point I don't think I ever will... it's not all that much work (indeed, there's a pretty simple "one-click" way to do it that, while still not as easy as entering the Konami code, isn't too big a deal either)... but the "I can restore it from brick state no matter what (almost)" argument is the main reason, and I 10000000% agree, webOS has it ALL OVER Android in this regard. Having that safety net makes a MASSIVE difference to most people.

However, in terms of what can actually be done... hmm, I'd say it's fairly close, but Android may have a slight advantage here. Changing a kernel is one thing, installing a whole new ROM, that to a large extent can make it a whole new OS, that's two pretty different things. On the other hand, the ease with which you can patch webOS I think makes that comparison a lot close than it might otherwise be. The simple fact is that a lot more people know HTML, JS and CSS and so can produce patches quicker and easier and you actually can, if you go far enough, begin to get a whole new OS. Still, think I'd have to give it to Android in terms of how extensively you can change things, but not by a large margin.

Nilay was spot on with his analysis in regard to the safety factor... webOS has a huge advantage here... but is it enough to say webOS beats Android in "hackability"? I'm not sure... certainly it's keeping *me* from rooting my Epic, so maybe it is... then again, the fact that I have no compelling need thus far to root it means Android has better customization options short of that, so overall, Android may win the larger "customization" battle... too bad (for Android) that webOS wins in a lot of other areas... most importantly to me is basic elegance... webOS is far more natural and intuitive than Android IMO... it's kind of like using a modern PC with Windows 7 or a current Mac and then having to use KDE on Linux... sure, you can get things done, and you can even tune it to be just how you want it to be, but there's a certain elegance to the mainstream OS's that Linux desktops generally lack (and yeah, I know I'll get loud disagreement from many people on this point).

That's a story for another day though :)

Awesome story and comparison. I think you hit the nail on the head, each has its own advantages. What we really need is this type of comparative story rather than an obviously slanted article. To often we see these slanted articles because the author starts with a bias.

My wife has an EVO, and unfortunately she won't let me "customize the heck out of it" with a new launcher etc., since she has finally gotten down to the point where she can use it to do what she needs to do.

Rooting the Samsung Galaxy S class phones including the Epic are not nearly as scary as most of the other android phones. This is because you can use a program called ODIN and a tar file with the samsung specific ROM, KERNEL, and radio in it to restore the phone from bricking situations just like you could on the pre with the doctor.

I think he acknowledges what you've just said, but I think the main point is that webOs doctor is written by PALM. Plus its (since there is only palm 2 phones) is not specific to your type of phone. While I am sure people programs are good, nothing is better than the OEM.

I understand what you are saying and I do agree that it is easier on Palm. But what i might not have made clear in my earlier comment the tar file is from samsung and is the exact copy of the phone from factory. I was just letting the OP know so he wouldn't be afraid to root and play.

Thanks for that, I wasn't aware Samsung had made their factory image available. I'm frankly still a little hesitant to root it, but now it's just me being timid :) Until I find something that I really *have* to have and that requires root I probably won't get over that. So far I haven't stumbled on that one special requirement. But thanks, definitely good to know!

Swapping the com boards on my Sprint Pre and Verizon Pre Plus, meta-doctoring the phones and running a clean webOS Doctor is a perfect example of the webOS hacking experience and the community around it. Not to mention installing UberKernel and Govnah, and overclocking my little phone-that-could.

I'd love to see an article like this co authored with someone from AndroidCentral to get some back and forth and comparison.

Heck, invite someone from tiPB too, he could be the comic relief!

I'm a massive power user & that's what keeps me on webOS. I don't know how my friends deal without multitasking & patching! I can't do the programming but I do know our devices are capable of much more. If we don't get official choices in our OS (and none of them are perfect), it's great that we have patches!

My nexus 1 seems to be more fun than my pre. On the pre I was able to pretty much customize everything myself. On this not so much. But all the different roms make up for that.

"Hacking, What is more open?"

Personally its not a big concern for me. Openness isn't something i think much about. I'd prefer to never have to hack my phone. Preware is neat for those that like it but when i first bought the phone i totally expected it to just be a stop gap till Palm added stuff. Didn't expect to still be using it more then a year later.

dead on. However, android developers won't give a rats *** about how open WebOS is until there is some wicked hardware. That's probably the only real advantage android has, while being it's downfall at the same time: loads of devices. Plenty of sweet phone options. You can have a great OS, but without great hardware, it just falls short. With great power comes great responsibility, and HPalms responsibilty should be to put out some amazing new phone(s).

One major difference has been overlooked.

Every package in Preware, including each and every custom kernel and patch, is 100% legal. The same holds true for everything else that WebOS Internals does.

A significant percentage of custom ROMz for Android contain illegally distributed proprietary files.

-- Rod

You should try android out, its what all the cool devs are doing ;D

Chalk another bullet point to the list of reasons why webOS is better than Android. I think the only things Androids have over Pre are compass and more apps. With webOS 2.0, Pre is closing the gap.

there's several reasons why people are flocking to Android besides hacking...apps, hardware, the fact that it's Google-powered which leads to complete connectivity through it's own services, and of course marketing/word of mouth/peer pressure. I, myself, am moving to Android for all of the above reasons. More specifically, for the hardware and apps. But the majority of the smartphone users don't buy em for the'hackability'. They just want a cool phone. And right now, Droid is the cool phone. I love webOS, but I need better hardware & more production than webOS can provide.

there's an article on AndroidCentral about a survey a company did with developers on which OS they're buying into long-term, and guess which one it is...and not even one mention of webOS, even tho RIM was in there. Even my daughter's Storm 2 has better Google calendar integration than my Pre+. Somewhere, somehow, webOS got lost in the mix of things and is now...dare I say it as much as I love webOS...grasping for air. And every day that goes by that HP/Palm doesn't bring out hardware that equals any of the recent Droid phones, their lungs close just that much more.


"And every day that goes by that HP/Palm doesn't bring out hardware that equals any of the recent Droid phones, their lungs close just that much more."

Pretty good FUD attempt with a few *minor* exceptions though:

Palm has about 2.6 MILLION (with an *M*) users with Pre's & Pixi's and despite (gasp!) NO NEW HARDWARE being released...

***GAINED*** (added, increased, etc)

...Over 200,000 webOS users last quarter.


So as FUD goes, gonna have to grade you an "F", yes, for FAIL


That survey was by AppCelerator, and guess what? webOS WAS in there. You really ought to read things more clearly. Oh, what's that? You're really an Android user and came here to troll? Doesn't surprise me.

What is it the kids say these days? Oh yeah... " Pwned!!"

Can we get a +/- system for comments here


Love the pic!! LOL