webOS "deeply flawed"? Point fingers at the plan, not the code | webOS Nation

webOS "deeply flawed"? Point fingers at the plan, not the code 179

by Derek Kessler Wed, 04 Jan 2012 10:51 pm EST

Earlier this week an article was published by The New York Times that served as a sort of post-mortem of webOS now that it’s going open source. The title: “H.P.’s TouchPad, Some Say, Was Built on Flawed Software”. Ignoring the annoying abbreviation of “H.P.” (even HP does it without the periods) and capitalization of webOS, the article talks to a few unnamed former Palm employees and Paul Mercer, formerly the Senior Director of Software at Palm, who characterizes webOS as “ahead of its time” for using web technology as the basis for the OS, even though the base of “WebKit remains not ready for prime time.” The gist of the article is that Palm, the Pre, HP, and the TouchPad all failed because of the software.

I’m not normally one to be so blunt and pointed on this blog, but as you can imagine I (along with plenty still working at HP and on webOS development) take issue with that claim. So, Mr. Mercer and Brian X. Chen of The New York Times, after taking a few days to mull this over and consider the points laid forth in your piece, I must throw down this gauntlet: You are wrong.

I concede that out of the gate the Pre and webOS did not live up to expectations. The idea of an iPhone killer wasn’t such a quaint notion back in early 2009 as it is today, so expectations for the Pre were fairly high. There was nothing Palm could do to contain the hype. In fact, they somewhat set themselves up with the stunning reveal at CES 2009, winning the coveted Best of Show. It didn’t help that everybody wanted Palm to succeed – America loves a good comeback story.

But when the Pre finally hit Sprint stores in June 2009, it was underwhelming. The software, while improved from January, was still slow and buggy. The App Catalog had a paltry few dozen apps available, all free. The Pre itself was poorly built and prone to hardware failures (I myself went through four units in two months before finally getting one that lasted well over a year and lives on today as part of my Sprint FrankenPre 2).

But that’s to be expected. It’s a first generation product, they’re never perfect. They never have all of the features and they never ship bug free. That’s the nature of the beast – you can either spend all eternity tweaking and fixing before releasing and the company goes belly up in the meantime because you didn’t sell anything, or you can release it and hope that customers are willing to put up with the software flaws for the short time it hopefully takes you to fix them.

So, yes, webOS as it existed on June 6, 2009, was flawed. So were iOS and Android when they launched. iPhone OS (as it was known back then) didn’t support third party apps; Android looked like crap for the first three or four versions. It takes time to work these things out, and by-and-large they can be solved, the company can work past them, and put out quality product.

On occasion, though, things don’t go peachy. This is the story of where Palm went wrong.

First and most obvious was the quality of the hardware. It’s not the processor or RAM or the screen I’m talking about here. It’s the shell, the slider, the physical device with which a user interacts. Palm took too many shortcuts here and ended up with a device that felt cheap and after a few weeks of use started to look cheap too. The original Pre was neither well built nor durable and it took Palm until the Pre 2 to really get the slider design right (the Pixi, while a cheap device, was much better built with the lack of a slider).

The root of the hardware problem was the slider. Palm opted, nay forced, a curved slider design. Why? Jon Rubinstein said it was so that when opened the Pre better matched the natural curve of your face. This would have made sense if the microphone were on the bottom half of the slider, putting it closer to one’s mouth when opened, but it was on the top half, and thus always in the same position relative to your mouth whether opened or closed. It’s worth noting that with the Pre3 the microphone was finally moved to the keyboard side of the slider, finally validating the argument, but the Pre3 was built on an all-new chassis that did away with all the designed-in flaws of the original Pre.

With the Pre 2 they finally got the original slider system tuned well enough to be solid and reliable, but by then it was too late. Palm had developed a reputation of having less-than-reliable hardware, and in a land where you’re stuck with the same device for two years thanks to a carrier contact, that’s the kiss of death. Had they managed to sort out the quality control issues earlier (say, before launch), things may have turned out differently.

The second problem was one that was almost unavoidable: Sprint. Palm surely would have wanted on a bigger carrier Verizon or AT&T with the Pre, but Big Red was already in the early phases of courting Motorola for the original Droid and AT&T was sitting pretty with their iPhone exclusive. That left Sprint and T-Mobile, and of the two Sprint was the better choice.

Sprint also was looking for somebody like Palm. They desperately wanted an iPhone competitor, something exclusively theirs that they use to combat the growing juggernaut of AT&T. It didn’t help that Sprint was smarting from having taken a pass on the iPhone when Apple was still shopping it around (Verizon was in the same boat) and desperate to make up for that faux pas with the shareholders.

But Sprint lacked the deep pockets of AT&T and the dedication of AT&T and Verizon. They weren’t prepared for a real flagship device – if you’ll recall, their kneejerk reaction to the iPhone was the pitiful Samsung Instinct. Sprint still didn’t understand the modern smartphone and wasn’t capable of working with Palm to ensure that the Pre lived up to their expectations.

Going with distant third place carrier Sprint exclusively also hobbled Palm. Apple and AT&T had the advantage of an existing customer knowledge of Apple products that led to customers switching to the iPhone, but by-and-large people didn’t leave Sprint and Verizon en masse for AT&T. There’s that two year contract rearing its ugly head again.

Sprint’s smaller customer base and apparent inability to train store staff came back to bite Palm in the rear. I personally can recount the story of taking my loose battery connection Pre in to the Sprint store to get a replacement and having a salesperson inform me oh-so-matter-of-factly that the Pre was supposed to turn off when the slider is closed. One: No it’s not. Two: It’s also not supposed to crash and burn when the slider is closed. The relationship between Sprint and webOS is strained after all of this, to say the least.

The failed sales training ties back to the third, and probably the biggest, problem that faced webOS. It’s called the TiVo problem.

By now we all know what TiVo is and why we would want one. In fact, even the cable and satellite companies figured it out and spat out poor excuses of a substitute that became known as the ubiquitous DVR. The TiVo problem is this: For the first several years it TiVo had great difficulty explaining what exactly their product did and why you should want one over a standard VCR or DVD recorder. It records shows – like your VCR, but on a hard drive. It does it on a schedule – like your DVD recorder, but this one is web connected and has a channel guide. You can watch something while recording something else – like your VCR, if you wired it up correctly. The TiVo does all of this with a pleasant remote controlled on-screen interface and also finds other shows you might like based on the things you’ve told it to record. Now we’re getting somewhere. For a long time the TiVo couldn’t be summed up in an easy-to-comprehend sentence. “Hard drive-based digital video recorder with recommendation engine” isn’t easy to parse. Apple meanwhile had a simple message for the iPhone: The internet, your music, and your movies. In your pocket. Later: Thousands of apps. In your pocket.

Palm’s message for webOS was a bit more complicated than that. Sure, the message encompassed the breadth of the iPhone’s message, but that wasn’t the selling point for webOS. Nor was the web-based operating system. The selling points were multitasking and Synergy, neither of which Palm seemed to be able to adequately explain to the general public.

One of the original iPhone ads could be used to show exactly the problem Palm aimed to solve with the multitasking prowess of webOS. It starts off on the iPhone home screen. The narrator launches email, goes back to the home screen, launches the stocks app, goes back to the home screen, and launches the web browser. One app at a time. webOS’ multitasking cards get around that, but it’s difficult to explain to an unknowing public in a thirty second spot.

The same TiVo problem applies to Synergy. It’s a simple problem: your contacts, calendars, and email are spread all across the internet. Synergy brings them all together into one spot, seamlessly matching up your contacts across sources without intermingling the data back on the servers. Once it’s explained to you it makes perfect sense and is a great feature, but as a selling point it’s not easy to pitch.

webOS had and still has a TiVo problem. Those that know it and understand it love it, can’t get enough of it, and turn into unpaid yet enthusiastic product ambassadors. That’s that don’t yet understand it can’t fathom why somebody would elect to use it over the more established competition that’s simple on the surface.

The biggest problem with Palm’s TiVo problem was and has been the advertising. Apple knew that the iPhone’s all touchscreen interface would be foreign to many, so early commercials focused on things as simple as “Here’s how you turn it on”, and to great effect. Potential customers and everybody else was familiarized through their television sets with the iPhone before they even had a chance to touch one.

Palm, on the other hand, chose to launch the Pre advertising campaign with this cool but esoteric ad featuring orange-cloaked dancers alluding to the capabilities of webOS while a pale woman sat on a rock in the middle of them with the phone. If you knew webOS you could see what the ad was about. If you didn’t know webOS, i.e. if you were the vast majority of the people watching the ad, you were left confused and utterly uninformed. The pattern has continued through all of the advertising for webOS, even up to the better but still not great ads put out by HP for the Veer and TouchPad. While these ads actually showed the devices in action, they still fail to explain how it is that the TouchPad and webOS is a better choice than an iPad or Android tablet.

It doesn’t help that Palm was so poor at pitching the user-facing advantages of webOS that first the BlackBerry PlayBook and now Windows Phone and Android have stolen the multitasking scheme and practically every platform has emulated Synergy in one shape or form and nobody knows that Palm came up with it first.

The TiVo problem isn’t a huge problem for TiVo. A company like TiVo can survive with a small but dedicated customer base willing to pay for their misunderstood products. A phone manufacturer, however, needs the support of a carrier as well as the customer base – it’s nigh impossible to successfully release a phone without having a carrier on board enthusiastically promoting the product.

The problem with webOS was not the software. Software can be fixed. Bugs can be patched, features added and improved, and things made generally better. Palm even made it easy to do it over-the-air in a manner that Apple is just now getting around to emulating.

The problem with webOS was the plan. The flaw was with shipping sloppy hardware. The problem was not even attempting to explain to customers what your product does. The flaw was launching on a third-rate carrier so desperate for an iPhone competitor that they allowed the first two to happen. The plan was broken.

Like I said, software can be improved. In fact, webOS was improved. It took a few months, but paid app support eventually arrived. Seven months after the Pre and webOS were released on Sprint, webOS 1.4.5 with PDK native code support (think in-depth gaming) and the upgraded Palm Pre Plus launched on Verizon. But the plan was still broken on the messaging front.

HP struggled with the message as well. We can’t deny that HP was disappointed by the sales of the TouchPad, but to say that pulling the plug after 49 days on the market is indicative of the failure of webOS is to be as short-sighted as HP was under the reign of CEO Leo Apotheker. He gave webOS a chance, yes, but a pathetically brief chance at that, falling on the excuse that it would take an investment of billions of dollars to get webOS to where it could be truly successful. Of course it would, what do you think Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been doing, pinching their pennies? No, they invest what they need to and then some to make the product they and customers want.

The failing of webOS to this point has not been that of the software. With the little bit of clean-up in webOS 3.0.2 and 3.0.4 the TouchPad stands, at least on an operating system level, toe-to-toe with iOS and Android (application support is, of course, another story). The failing has been with message, dollars, and patience.



first. Now to read the article! How many words is this?


You're supposed to delete these "first!" comments, no reply to them!

First to say: Lame.

Tldr; Webos failed because of Sprint and the consumer.

"Webos failed because of Sprint and the consumer"

...try as I might, I cannot understand how the above article can be summarized like that.

BTW, GREAT piece, Derek, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. Poor hardware quality and the lack of customer's message, also the apparent lack of commitment and market-savvy, comparing to competitors (re: hardware line updates, vastly different to what market wanted), is what killed webOS.

Sprint advertised the Pre endlessly. Palm issues included:
• Software was interpreted, not compiled = slow
• Zen rock shape meant a plastic screen = cracks
• Cheap slider mechanism = OREO
• 12 Apps for the first 60 days
• Palm insisted on Creapy Vampire Girl ads
• Closed APIs so no music apps, no Shazam, etc.
• Pre was trying to match the year-old iPhone 3
• Few were still buying physical keyboard phones
• Few were still buying 3" smartphones in 2009
• Pre 3 tried to match the year-old iPhone 4
• TouchPad tried to match the year old iPad 1

Jon wanted a phone that would impress his old Zen Master, Steve Jobs so it was a plastic "river stone". Only years later did we find out that Creapy Vampire Girl was supposed to be a Zen Goddess.

While most of your list is spot on, I'm trying to wrap my mind around "Few were still buying 3" smartphones in 2009."

What else was there? The iPhone has always been 3.5", all Android devices I can think of were 3.1 or 3.2" (and I don't even think BlackBerry was past 2" screens except for the abysmal Storm which was 3.25").
Please, correct me if I'm wrong...I'm just going off memory here.

See: A Look Back: Top Smartphones 2009 - 2011 http://forums.webosnation.com/showthread.php?t=309925

The top smartphones of each year are linked.
2009 top phones averaged just over 3.5".
2010 top phones averaged just over 3.7".
By 2011 they averaged 4.3".

The 2009 Pre was 3.1" and Pixi was 2.6".
The 2010 Pre 2 was 3.1" and Pixi Plus was 2.6".
The 2011 Pre 3 was 3.58".

2009 was the year BlackBerry peaked as the market rushed to bigger displays and away from physical keyboards.

The Pre was a BlackBerry Killer, not an iPhone Killer. But BlackBerry was already dying.

Nice article Derek, thanks!

It's a shame that precentral's lead editor still doesn't understand what went wrong with Palm. It's probably one of the reasons why Precentral itself declined so much as the idiot fanboys & mods took over.

WebOS failed for many reasons, the obvious being hardware, but software is definitely one of those reasons.

Why Derek goes off on a tangent with Sprint and advertising is beyond me. In terms of hype, Sprint and Palm couldn't have asked for much better. It was easily Sprint's best launch at that time. Yes, the commercials were horrible but they still resulted in getting attention.

Had Palm gotten AT&T or Verizon on board first, they still would have had the same problems listed above. Poor training, poor advertising, etc. Sprint was NOT a reason at all why webOS failed. It was Palm. It was having shoddy hardware mixed with buggy software.

And still, there's hardly an article on what webOS got right. Does Derek even know? Very few seemed to. Josh formerly from Engadget was one of those few. There were some long time posters here that "got it" but were banned long ago by the growing pool of idiot fanboys on this site.

Think music synergy. Video synergy. Things like this that were never realized. All the potential of webOS that was never realized. This is software Derek. Heck, webOS never got optimized enough to reliably answer a phone call. The mail app was agonizingly too slow to use for business. Maps was a joke. The potential never got realized because Palm and HP could never get past the basics.

To this day, i've no idea if a complete sdk was ever released. I stopped caring. Did it though? Did those mic api's ever get done? Are you sure the software was never the culprit Derek?

This is just a propaganda, editorial piece for this site.

The only thing WebOS faithful cling to is "oh we can multitask." I remember when Palm said they sped up app start up times, but all they did was have the card come up first with a glowing icon. We had to wait nearly 8 - 10 months for video recording. We had to use patches to make their software work better. That's not vastly superior. That's flawed software.

I used to appreciate the community aspect of this site. Now it has turned into WebOS fanatical hero worship, bitter users trying to prove why WebOS is superior, and mods locking threads at the mention of the word "Android."

Jon Rubinstein is a hack and a wannabe Steve Jobs. Google should have bought Palm and taken all the patents.

Now, I am a bit new to this website... been here for about 3 or possibly 4 months now...so maybe I don't exactly know where you are coming from, But....seriously
Isn't the point of a WebOS website to be Fan Boys of their own software? at least in some fashion? I'm not sure about you, but I would never create a website centered around a platform I don't like..

What i'm saying is, you make it sound like there should be articles Bashing WebOS instead of defending webos.. If they did that, i'm not so sure there would be a website anymore.

Not sure i'm defending the article.. etc..

Google did get Matias Duarte and named him Director, Android User Experience. According to Wikipedia, "Duarte is named as an inventor in 18 of Palm's pending US Patent applications." I bet everyone will recognize "User Interface For Initiating Activities In An Electronic Device". Oh, you don't? Maybe the description will help:
"In one embodiment, a user interface is presented for initiating activities in an electronic device. The user interface includes an element referred to as a “launch wave”, which can be activated at substantially any time, even if the user is engaged with an activity, without requiring the user to first return to a home screen. In various embodiments, the user can activate the launch wave by performing a gesture, or by pressing a physical button, or by tapping at a particular location on a touchscreen, or by activating a keyboard command. In one embodiment, activation of the launch wave and selection of an item from the launch wave can be performed in one continuous operation on a touch-sensitive screen, so as to improve the expediency and convenience of launching applications and other items."

Quite a win for el Goog.

The old-school philosophy, stemming from the knuckledraggers who led VisorCentral/TreoCentral, paved the way for kids like Kessler to serve as eternal apologists for their 'cause'. Though they do so at the price of insulting every reader's intelligence.

This crew of Jesus-freaks and 'capitalism-at-all-costs' running this show for the past 10 years deserves their demise. Karma's a **** they cannot handle. The only thing they have to fear ... is the reflection in the mirror. The rest of us, with our integrity intact, are doing just fine, thank you very much.

Wow. Just wow. "Jesus-freaks"???

Sad to think you can blame WebOS failure on any 2-3 items. Palm and HP were wrong, pretty much at every turn.

Way too cheap hardware.
Way too short battery life.
No expandable memory.
No data carryover from Palm PIMs.
Riverstone and creepy lady, anti-tech promos.
No carryover of PalmOS power apps.
Wasted time and credibility with Itunes.
Down clocked CPU.
No use of GPU.

This was day one and made Pre the laughing stock of the industry, despite it's brilliance. Verizon would have never released this underpowered plastic nugget. ATT would never have touched it with an Apple exclusive contract in hand.

What's left? TMO? Tracfone? Sprint was the home of Palm's loyalty base. Sprint struggled with these Palm failures and worked long and hard to satiate their customers with hardware that was flawed.

Palm built way too many Pre and Pre+'s so all the carriers choked on this first generation failure for way too long.

Sprint, touchstone, Synergy and cars were the few bright points in an episode of terrible hardware failure that went 18 months before a sub-second generation unit became available.

Then added failures, promises and mis-steps by HP continued to fail to bring a fully sorted, modern device to the street.

Palm abandoned it's core values in releasing the Pre and that created a disconnect with their core buyers. End of story.

Thanks, but it's falling on deaf ears.

In any other situation if a product fails across multiple form factors across multiple retailers and price points over a few years, you'd say "Occam's Razor!" and look at the ONE COMMON DENOMINATOR: webOS.

Not here, tho. I also love this myopic view of a mobile OS as an independent product in a vacuum. IT IS NOT. iOS is inextricably linked to the hardware form factors running it and the ecosystem (iTunes) that has buoyed it from before a time when it even had apps. Both as an individual OS and as a complete product with ecosystem, webOS has never, ever, ever, ever, ever had parity with its main competitors.

I agree w/Derek actually. Note the very first thing he mentioned was hardware. People with good units (or I should say at least decent units, no original Pres were good) were insanely happy with the system, and found WebOS a joy to use... albeit with lots of room for improvement as ANY 1st gen product does.

But when the majority of your fans find themselves replacing their phones 3 or 4 times over the next few months, what kind of growth can you expect? Yes a ton of stuff wasn't realized software-wise, but how the **** was Palm supposed to fund software dev and future hardware? Good press? Posts on a message board?

Correct, webOS' does have greater potential that has not been tapped into, but that's not what makes or breaks it. While webOS has plenty of bugs and lacking features on release, so did every platform (I have a long rant on the forums about this actually).

webOS' problems (in my eyes) can be summarized as:
1) Late to the party: a fresh OS was competing against 2nd gen Android devices and 3rd gen iPhones.
2) Terrible advertising that did not point out the awesome aspects it had to offer that differentiated it (other than multitasking) such as Synergy, Universal Search, and the touchstone.
3) Not providing somewhat basic features users wanted such as expandable memory, readily available APIs (yes, such as the mic API which meant Shazam couldn't even be ported over), and better native apps (memos, anyone?) that lived up to Palm's tenure.
4) Bad hardware (which has already been addressed above)

And the biggest I think
5) The hefty delay until the devices successor was available (to address all the first generation's problems). Apple releases a new device and version almost exactly one year later. Android does about the same with successive versions, but with many more devices. However, the Pre 2 (the only device with 2.0) was released 16 months after the original Pre and that was only Unlocked! It took 20 months before it hit Verizon!!

Any problem that I had with my (VZW) Pre Plus was fixed with my Pre 2 either by the much improved hardware (except lack of auto-focus) or 2.x (including that phone call answering problem). No slider problems, no slowdown at all, no GPS issues, etc., etc.

The Pre 2 and version 2.0 fixed every complaint (with very few exceptions) I had with my Pre Plus and webOS; it's just a shame it took them so long to get it out (and on an official carrier, especially). =(

The problem with this editorial is it still clings to the notion that WebOS was vastly superior to the competition in a way that mattered. In reality, I think WebOS was slightly better than Android and iOS in the areas nobody cares about while being significantly worse in the areas customers care very deeply about.

the thing is, webOS IS vastly superior in many important aspects. the multitasking ability, in particular, cannot be rivaled by android nor ios. I cant explain how frustrating it is working with different apps when im trying to accomplish something on my android (even with ics). going from app to app is such a breeze on webos.

also, you would think that with my pure google phone (nexus s 4g) i could just sign in once with my gmail acct and apps would automatically recognize my acct. unfortunately, that is not the case and i find myself having to put in the same exact google acct info into multiple applications. shouldnt the phone know that I am me?!

At least it was. When WebOS died off (when HP gave up from the get go), all the other "competition" just ripped off the videos with that complete rip-off blackberry phone, to Android (and I think ios too) stealing Synergy and saying they were the first/revolutionary ones to make it. The iphone4s with their "new" notifications which is pretty much just ours redesigned. And many more, but at least we still have multitasking.

But that was the problem - nobody cared. Yes, WebOS had a far better implementation of multitasking back in 2009 but it doesn't matter if you don't have any apps to multitask.

Android didn't have apps to multitask when the Pre launched either. It only gained apps via many phone sales due to the extensive carrier support from Verizon.

Yeah, Verizon needed to battle AT&T's iphone and Android was their baby. I would guess they're stifling WP7 and all other competitors now because they don't want to spend the money to support another OS.

it also didn't matter because one regular people don't care as much about multitasking as people here do.

And second, now, ios and android multitask good enough to please most people.

"regular" people? You mean people with different phones?

Well to be fair, if you own a WebOS phone at this point ... your not exactly Regular.... more like Rare!

i mean the average non techy consumer. the person that just want's a device but isn't gonna hack it or preware it or jailbreak it or root it. Some guys mom or some school girls that's not ever gonna become a "phone enthusiast" and is never gonna learn what a pdk, sdk, enyo, etc.

I'd just disagree. Webos is vastly superior to people on precentral but not to most people. Multitasking and synergy are not enough to overcome the other issues specifically lag. And as a general platform if you don't have apps people want then it doesn't matter if your os is "superior" because most people only minimally care about a phone O.S.

but the idea of "superiority" is a very subjective one. Personally i thought webos has some creative ideas when it first launched but i've never felt it was a superior os to ios or android. my opinion.

I remember in 2009 how Ed Colligan was touting that iPhone OS was weighed down by baggage because it was based on OS X and that webOS was designed from the ground up to work with mobile devices. Therefore, it would be faster and more efficient. LOL.

Also, remember how after the CES introduction we had a six month wait and people here said that Palm would simply do everything better than Apple because Palm had been in the PIM business so they knew what they were doing. LOL

I remember in 2009 how Ed Colligan was touting that iPhone OS was weighed down by baggage because it was based on OS X...

Which makes it even funnier when you consider that Jon Ruby, in 2011, used OS X as an example of the great platform that webOS is to become.

Great nuggets from "a moment in webOS history".

You say WebOS is superior in many aspects, then name ONE. Is it superior to Android and iOS as a gaming system? No. Media content consumption system? No. As a web browsing system? No. Social media device? No.

Huge gaping holes there.

But by all means, let's rehash multitasking of the same handful of tasks when Android and iOS are capable of executing exponentially more via their vastly superior app stores and ecosystems.

Sorry, but wouldn't being a superior gaming system be more a factor of the hardware than the OS?

How could any of Android, iOS or webOS be a better web browsing system when they're all using WebKit?

As a social media device, one could argue that Synergy is superior to what iOS and Android have to offer. If you factor in the unused (and mostly undocumented) capabilities with the Synergy connectors then I'd say that webOS is vastly superior than the other two _as an OS_.

When taking into account developer/app support - sure, webOS is lacking... but the point of this is that the underlying OS is superior in many aspects to its competition, not whether these aspects could ever be fully realized.

I'm not saying webOS is the most perfect thing ever created... it had and has its flaws and I will agree that being based on WebKit had an impact.

Synergy, multitasking... these are two things I miss dearly on my new Nexus S. There is a reason that so many of us hung onto our Pre-'s as long as we did and it was because of the OS (and the Touchstone). God knows we didn't do it for the hardware or app selection... but feel free to ignore any of webOS's superiorities if it makes you feel better.

A mobile gaming system needs superior native API/accelerometer support moreso than anything hardware-related. Palm just had a porting kit to leech off of work done for iOS.

You asking how iOS and Android are better browsing devices because they're all based on Webkit is so laughable, I don't know where to start. I guess Symbian has an equivalent browsing experience to iOS since it uses WebKit too?

Synergy /= social media. Synergy is great for contacts and messaging, but I'm talking robust official Facebook and Twitter apps. I'm talking about getting all of your feeds in one place. I'm not "factoring in" potential extensions because you can't use those.

Yes, WebOS did and still does have superiorities. But they are so very, very, very outnumbered by deficiencies, it's irrelevant. Synergy and app switching does not obviate inferior boot times, browser performance, accelerometer performance, photo app performance, barebones media player, and a kazillion other problem areas that didn't get fixed in 2.5 years.

this article almost brought a tear to my eye. I, personally, moved on from my [beat up pre bought on ebay for ~$40, speaker was bad and device was still under warranty so took it to sprint, waited about 2 weeks and got a practically new,] refurbished palm pre. and after I oc'ed it to some crazy levels, I loved it! I would race my friends droids and iphones with various apps and my 2 year old phone would beat their stupid fanboy devices.

I ended up settling for a free-after-rebate nexus s 4g and although its not the fastest! or greatest! device, it aint bad. plus, i just put ice cream sandwich on it which is very very sweeet.

sorry for my little rant but I did thoroughly enjoy this article derek and i appreciate ur commitment to the os I love, now on my tp

My Palm Pixi just died- sad day- I bought another one on Amazon though- will see how long it lasts - as noted- the software rocks, it's the hardware- or lack thereof that is killing it- And the marketing well....... who knew such an awful commercial could do so much harm- but an elevator speech to be able to easily explain why I love my phone so much even without apps, and horrible battery would have been nice...... A girl can still dream, right?

Derek, great article and great read. Totally agree....but I do have an issue. You dont seem to address the developers comments on webos and webkit. I kind of remember Meg or some HP exec saying once that webos did have performance issues or needed a lot of work to bring it up to speed with a modern os.

Now I dont see it personally... **** every android device ive ever picked up lags on home screen transitions....and that hasn't stopped them from being a success.

So...even though it might not have been a failure...does the article have a point? Is webos flawed at the base level by running on webkit?

another interesting point the article made that is rarely addressed is that they lacked the programmers good enough to fix what was wrong.

but to me there was clearly something wrong. i'm no programmer so i don't know if it was webkit or whatever i just know my pre was pretty buggy and laggy and sometimes just stopped responding to my finger and it was very frustrating.

This is your fault because you didn't try [insert favorite patch here]. I use it and my [insert my device here] is blazingly fast. Everyone I show it to immediately runs to [insert whatever retailer still has them or Ebay] and buys one for themselves.

i don't go around showing my phone to people and if you need to patch it to make it blazingly fast you've already lost because most consumers won't buy your phone that's slow pre patch in the store. And not only that most consumers won't patch at all.

it's ok for you but not for the average consumer. And i used every useful patch and overclocked my phone too. it was never not laggy and not crashy. and i used it for more then 2 years. even with patches and overclocking it was unacceptably laggy.

Nice article Derek.
I think webOS's demise had as much to do with leadership as it did with the hardware. Accepting the initial ad campaign - not to mention the '80's moms was a horrible way to sell webOS. It was marketed as a feature phone.

Until my launch day Pre- died a few weeks ago, I felt it superior to every other platform on the market (still do). I say that even now that I'm using a Galaxy Nexus. Developers stayed away and that combination was insurmountable in the marketplace.

webOS is Spanish for Balls LOL

And here I thought it was huevos.

No, that would be eggs. Balls is bolas or cojones. I think webOS is Spanish for underrated, yet subtly awesome.

Literal translation of huevos is eggs, but it heavily used to refer to "balls", and it sounds like "webos" when pronounced.

sinking for a moment to your level: either have some or you haven't. Wo has some, don't need to speak about.

Didn't realize an explanation of a Spanish term indicates a lower level. Pompous much?

Except the name of the operating system is pronounced "Web-Oh-Ess", not "weh-boes".

My June 2009 Sprint Pre is still in-use as my primary mobile phone. Hey, it keeps my email, contact list and calendar synced with Google, and works as a phone. Yes, it is worn (screen scratches; missing USB door), and it runs webOS 1.4.5, but it still works better than the Windows Mobile Palm device it replaced.

For another interesting perspective, check out this blog post: http://www.chuqui.com/2012/01/changing-of-the-guard-and-letting-it-down-...

Hooray for you. You've moved up a notch from Windows Mobile.

two points- I bought a veer off ebay soon after HP canceled the TP.

I work in a high school and when the kids see my phone they are amaazed by the size. They become even more amazed when they see the keyboard. The veer marketed correctly would have been a winner with young people.

Most of my friends laugh at me and my love for my WebOS products. However when I am able to get someone to allow me to show them the selling points of the phone they suddenly seem to understand why I enjoy the phone so much more then their iphone.
In my opinion WebOS marketed correctly can be successful.

Every couple of weeks, someone will ask me about my Pre2 and I show them what it can do. I'm in the software business, so pretty much everyone I work with knows the general story, but if they never used WebOS, they don't realize how good it is.

The thing that absolutely drives me up a wall is that corporate types are ditching their BBs at a steady rate and their only choice is between "techie" Android, or "cool" iPhone. WebOS devices are gone, and Windows Phone might be good, but it doesn't have any significant mindshare. I try to ask them what they currently do with their BB and what they want to do with their next device to help them see if they have a real preference.

Palm should have just ran the videos they posted on their website instead of some ghost of a woman.

Love webOS, and wish HP, etc., will come back with next gen. of software and devices.

I thought it was a bit suspicious that ex-palm and Android devs were disparaging the webOS code base, now that they will have to compete with it more directly, potentially...

Derek, very excellent write up...as always most of the people that write about webOS are very ignorant because I doubt they would ever even pick up a webOS device. I have my pre- soon to be a PRE3 or veer (for developing) and my TP, and love them all even though my daily device is a NS4G, but I am attempting to get webOS on it.

Interesting fact I know a patent lawyer and showed him the video that you did Derek and he did a quick search, and he said that Palm filed a patent back in 1996 for a "touch screen enabled interface for portable devices." And the next day he said he could not find anything older that would relate to how touchscreen phones work today.

---My .02 worth, I really feel that Archos needs to pick up a tablet that runs webOS, they make consumer friendly priced hardware and I have had my 5IT from them for almost 2 years now a love it since I am running Android 2.3 on it now.

Archos would fit right in because their hardware builds suck bigtime also.

The WebOS problem was no good advertising, lack of software, lack of apps, lack of fast past updates, and crappy hardwar and palm having no money and Hp being stupid.

I agree with the article. The lagginess of webOs is the main reason I gave up on webOs. That and the crappy apps. I don't think webOs has changed much in the last nearly 3 years Still has many of the same bugs and lacks basic features.

The article states that customers quickly realized how slow the OS was and many were returned so I don't see why it matters wht network it launched on.

The differnce with Android is that it kept improving in every way possible. WebOS due to webkit does not seem like it can ever run fast and pretty much has not changed much or added anything significant.

Me too as i stated below lagginess and lack of apps and bad webos basic apps like the music player made me give up. I mean when youtube was never updated and the **** music app was never given advanced features and don't get me started on the camera well you know that their priorities were not where mine was.

And just like you said. To me WebOS has not changed anywhere near enough for me since the Pre minus. What they added barely interests me. What they failed to add really interest me. Pre 3 to me was more of the same. i think the big problem is Derek is a techy power user and most of the people here are to some degree and what they like is not what the general public likes. The general public rarely goes into a store and asks the clerk "so which phone is the best multitasker." I surely didn't when i bought a phone. They are like "can i use facebook?" "Does it netflix?" And what people hear don't get is to be successful a product needs the average consumer not merely the techy guy.

But i can honestly say just like you said i turned away from webos for exactly the reasons you did. And by the way I moved to sprint for the Pre. I was out of contract and stayed with sprint. Sprint was not a problem for me.

The "problem" with webOS *WAS* webOS: the first version was basically a showcase made around a collection of "pet projects" of several people, some very talented, some not so much. It had a pretty face, but behind there was a mess. It was an unmanageable mish-mash of technologies, each one developed in its own "island". There was even a *JVM* just to run the parts that nobody had the time or the interest to finish and port to native code in time for the release. By version 1.3.x Nobody really believed they could really make the 1.x branch to work well enough to be useful. So the 2.x branch was started almost from scratch. There was so much to do. In a very short time. The 2.0 (and 2.1) release, designed to be "leaner and faster", was hit by several "last minute" bugs which left it with terrible memory leaks and performance issues -- making it almost unusable on 256M devices. The mojo framework itself, at that point, was in a so terrible shape (look at the code yourself) that nobody was willing (or able) to fix it, and someone's "pet project" was just creeping in: Enyo. At the project stage it looked so good someone decided it would replace mojo, well before it was finished enough to decide if it would *really* be better. The leap from "project" to "product" left it broken and crippled: as soon as enough "real code" was in, everything was (again) too complex, too slow, and not really good enough. But Enyo was already "the newest and better".

From my own experience, I must agree. You are spot on.

Shame that after about 3 years and 2 failures people are still sticking to the false notion that webOS was never the problem or never had anything to do with its failure. That's a long time in denial. Oh well.

Webos can never be part of the problem because people here refuse to take a critical look at it. From the average consumers perspective and the average consumer doesn't buy a phone basically just for multitasking. but yeah there is a ton of denial. WebOS had a lot of issues.

A decade ago AOL cut virtually all funding to the open source Mozilla foundation and canceled Netscape for basically the same reasons that the sources in the article cited as fundamental flaws in the foundation of webos, and most commentators said IE had won the browser wars forever.

Today Mozilla Firefox is the #1 browser in Europe. And last I heard HP still has hundreds of developers working on the code.

Firefox is garbage now. It's a slow, buggy mess. So much so, that Google Chrome has taken much of its market share.

my data in the hands of google? bbrrrrrr!

Thanks for this one. A very good read.

Derek, Derek, Derek...

webOS failed because of apps, first and foremost.

Your right in that Palm was unable and HP unwilling to make the investments neccessary to develop the platform and the ecosystem. Leo was pathetic in his lack of vision, which his predecessors obviously did have, to make huge investments over a long period of time to develop a new product. It was too bad.

In the end, it all boiled down to apps. Oh, there's document editing available on the Sprint pre now? A liittle late, don't ya think?

For all the ways webOS is superior to other os's, it's not enough to make up for what I couldn't do with it.

And, all the ways webOS was superior can be duplicated. And, once webOS is open sourced, it will be even easier to do so.

Document editing was another management mistake by Palm. Docs To Go couldn't deliver. QuickOffice couldn't deliver. Picsel wasn't even touted as the official office solution and they delivered in flying colors. Palm and HP picked the wrong guys.

Not defending anyone, but I think part of the problem in the early days was the lack of APIs. I guess they could have written a PDK app, however.

yep. where webos was superior was not enough and overall it just wasn't superior in my mind. it had some good ideas like the manner in which it multitasks but it doesn't make up for it's failings.

I mirrored this experience - bought my pre- enthusiastically (had a stupid-good deal thanks to a company discounted plan). It was everything I wanted in a phone, and almost immediately had a shattered internal touchscreen (a manufacturing defect that they initially denied).

A handful of devices later (in an EXTREMELY short period of time) I finally had a pre- that survived. It was an awesome phone. I wound up running it for most of it's life at 1.1ghz and it did a wonderful job of handling my needs up until just a few weeks ago when I decided to franken-pre2 it. I'm not giving it a total pass, webOS had some growing pains, but by and by I did love the phone.

Let me be clear on this though, that nearly 2 year old phone was BEAT UP well beyond what it should have been. The soft plastic case material on the pre- was an incredibly poor choice, especially for the screen. I babied my pre- and it -still- looks absolutely terrible today, you'd think I put this thing through the wringer. The back is scratched all to **** from even basic use (sit it on a desk, put it in your pocket without a protective sleeve, set it on the touchstone), and the screen developed some nasty scratches and even a nice big crack from the USB door with a small wedge of plastic missing.

The pre2 I'm using now is everything that pre- should have been. WebOS on my pre2 is much more polished and runs beautifully (this should have happened EARLY - my pre- couldn't even properly render TEXT for gods sake). The hardware is solid as a rock and the touchscreen is made of glass the way it should have been from the get-go and stays nice and scratch-free. The slider is solid and the keyboard isn't creaky. The materials on the device are scratch and scuff resistant. It's just better in every single way and yet, in terms of it's hardware, it could have easily been released back when the pre- hit the scene.

Of course, even if they HAD released a perfect OS on a pre2-like device back in 2009, I bet things would have still ended up the same way. I'd argue palms biggest mistake with the pre was going with a slightly too-small screen on the device and the pre2 doesn't fix that. The iphone already sported a bigger and more capable screen, and the wheels were obviously in motion for BIGGER and BETTER rather than small and sleek. Multitasking is nice, but honestly, sit a pre- next to an iphone and surf the web for a couple of minutes. The iphone is going to deliver a MUCH more comfortable (less squinting and zooming) experience. That's even without considering the silly issues webOS had with their web browser (graphical glitching on text, sideways rubber-band effect as you attempted to scroll a webpage down, etc). Face it, that -slightly- larger iphone screen makes a world of difference in terms of readability.

WebOS had the software, but it was never going to shine on that small form-factor. Obviously palm missed the boat on this one, because they kept developing even smaller smartphones like the pixi and the veer. By the time they finally wised up and started work on the pre3, well, we all know how that worked out.

All that said, I love my franken-pre2 and it's smallish screen doesn't really bother me thanks to it's synergistic relationship with my touchpad. While my pre- represented my mobile web browser and had a LOT of use as such, my pre2 functions more often as a wifi hot spot parked on my touchstone while I browse the web, field calls, and text message right off my touchpad. If it wasn't for my touchpad, the small screen on the pre2 would have been unacceptable today and I'd have had to bite the bullet and grab a more capable phone.

Anyway, I love that I can use my frankenpre2 to continue to take advantage of my -amazing- "grandfathered in" deal through sprint without having to pony up a smartphone tax for a new device, and I LOVE webOS. Ten years from now I'll probably be sitting here with a vastly superior piece of cellular hardware in my pocket, and I'm going to laugh about how it STILL hasn't surpassed the sort of near-effortless OS experience I was enjoying way back in 2009 :). Such is life I suppose.

It was Rubinstein who decided to go even smaller. Pixi was a flop, and when the Veer was announced, everyone was either saying "meh" or "wtf". They wanted the Pre 3, but it never arrived. They made Rubinstein's pet project a priority instead of getting out a bigger-screened phone.

Plus, now that webOS is open-source, ten years from now you'll be sitting with a vastly superior piece of cellular hardware, but you'll have the option of having the near-effortless OS experience you've been enjoying for over 10 years.

I thought it was quite telling when Jon announced the Veer and the audience was silent.

One issue, when Leo was brought in. He gave WebOS enough support for it to fail. By doing this he thought he could show that it was a mistake to be in hardware and better to scrap it for doing services. The investors kinda told HP where to stick that notion.

The other thing is webkit was a major flaw anyway you slice it. Yes the idea was great. Making it work was darn near impossible. This was an issue from the onset and everything thrown at it was a failure. Heck they even brought in uber graphic talent and even they couldn't make it work. It all stemmed from the decision to do all in html, css, ect.

Now that ICS is out and sadly, a credible replacement for WebOS. It is just too late. That's the truly sad part.

You sound like you worked at Palm or know someone who did.

I recently upgraded from Pixi to a Pre 2 and I'm amazed how well webos 2 runs, i see virtually no difference between my ipod touch in speed except for the apps launching a bit faster (and webos 2 is much more pleasant to use.) If HP had focused on optimizing the phone OS and enyo over the past year rather than forcing it onto tablets I'd think they could have caught up by now. People used to say how Mozilla had the same problem but all it needed was faster hardware and optimization.

And that's where the problem is. If Hurd had not been canned he had the Vision. He would have pushed for the proper launch and support. When Leo was brought in. He did the PR that this was great. What we didn't know until that market call HP did was that he never had any intention to be in this business. He and the board wanted desperately to get whole hog into services. The Market punished them for that move.

Too late for WebOS though. As of now Android and IOS weer smart to get the people that made the best of WebOS shine.

I did same- upgraded from overclocked Pre + to Pre 2 and overall very happy with it. I regularly use a iphone 4 as backup and I do prefer the Pre2. The slight spec bump made webOS work smoothly on Pre 2. The next gen of processor coming out now would have made touchpad work even better and it's pretty good now with a few patches.
HP really wanted the tablet to make its mark and diverted the webOS team to 3.x. They almost carried it off-if they took another 1 month to update the TP to speed it up, better marketing, better pricing and it would have done ok with steadier management than Leo. HP should have paid cold hard cash to get big name apps on board for launch to attract the customer. So many minor mistakes added up to the failure.

I will never let go of my pre it is the best phone ever and to think that I got it on a black friday sale! free! 2 years ago! jajajaja :-D

Great article. I agree with everything in it.

Interesting how every low point of webOS goes back to Rubinstein. HP pulled the trigger too late when they got him away from webOS.

It seems like I read that he fought against releasing the TouchPad until it was ready. If true, that would be one in his favor.

Not all software problems are fixable. The decision to go with webkit pretty much doomed the platform to underperform the more efficient competition. Plugins are no solution. They just ensure that every app uses its own custom user interface elements and motif, forcing the user to constantly relearn and reorient.

Ruby made the wrong decision about using webkit in 2008, probably because they didn't have time to really develop a mobile platform and because he isn't a software guy - at least not on the level of Steve Jobs. I still remember the webcast demo of the SDK. The guy was creating the code in a generic text editor. What a joke that was - no integrated development environment. That's when I knew that the whole thing was cobbled together on the fly and was destined to fail.

webOS had some nice user interface elements but the back end was kind of a facade which quickly showed its weakness when features had to be added. People will probably tinker with it forever but it will never show up on the mobile market share charts ever again.


"The selling points were multitasking and Synergy, neither of which Palm seemed to be able to adequately explain to the general public."

Not for me. I bought a Pre minus expecting it to do what an iphone does well and eventually to have as many apps. But multitasking and synergy were never ever the reason i decided to buy a Pre. They are no doubt positives but never the reason. I liked it cause it looked polished like the iphone OS and unlike Android did. But being good at multitasking and synergy are not enough cause they weren't why i bought the phone.

Webos failed with me because:
-the software was slow and laggy.
-Software crashed too often.
-Software became unresponsive needed reboots often
-poor battery life
-Poor basic apps like the music player, camera, mediocre email app, google maps, no visual voicemail,
-2nd most important reason: NO APPS I WANTED

One other thing. I only had one Pre minus. Never had to return it. I had hardware issues like a cracking screen but hardware was not really my problem.

the last thing is this quote "Like I said, software can be improved. In fact, webOS was improved."

I'm sorry but webos 1.4.5. didn't fix any of my issues. i'm on it. or was until a few weeks ago and it wasn't great. the apps still stunk, music apps still sucked, google maps didn't work, few apps i wanted, and worse still really laggy. If that is improved your standards are just way different then mine and i think i'm a lot more of the average non-techy person.

I'm sorry Webos had some good ideas but WebOS was not a better OS. And truth is most regular consumers just don't care that much about esoteric details of an OS.

Not a better os than what? Android that only got pdk games well after the pre minus did? Or ios that you had to plug into your computer to update.....for an hour? How were those systems better? They exist for the same reason VHS beat betamax...cause aside from everything mentioned in that article, sometimes **** happens....and that's for every backswipe I catch myself applying to my old evo4g which met an app installment limit solved in the pre's first year....my nexus 4g with nice work on the ice cream sandwich that I think someone from palm made(sarcasm) and for that matter, this touchpad...webOS revolutionized the mobile phone universe...but failing means never credit.....

Love how people have been misquoting what happened between VHS and Betamax. Neither was vastly more superior than the other. They both had some very strong points and did better than the other in certain areas. VHS won because it edged out Betamax in the areas that mattered. A key factor was that while Betamax had "slightly" better quality, it has abismal playtime compared to VHS. VHS stayed ahead where it mattered most to consumers.

That story has nothing to do with Android/iOS vs webOS except for webOS' inability to get ahead where it matters to consumers/developers. Having used all of them for some time and DEVELOPED for them for some time, the truth is clear. webOS did some things right, but it was/is NOT superior. Heck, even from a development perspective, it's no longer "easier" to develop for webOS due to the tools out there for cross platform development (many of which are CSS/HTML/Javascript based and came out around the same time webOS did). You can even forego CSS and HTML and use Javascript to build "native" apps for multiple platforms. webOS lost its advantages a long time ago. What's worse, most consumers never cared much abou the advantages webOS had in the first place.

not better then android not better then ios specifically.

i don't play games on my phone other then occasionally chess. So i don't care about games. I'm closer to the average consumer. i don't know what pdk means and don't care. I just want the phone to work. if you have to bring up tech phrases like PDK to me or enyo to justify a point my only response is "i don't by a phone cause of sdk, pdk, enyo or whatever tech thing." What i and most people want to know is does it do facebook, or netflix or podcast or something like that. Can they play words with friends on it? That's what sells not "pdk"

How are they better?

better music player, playlist, integrated podcast, equalizer, audiobook player, bookmark functionality, ignore words like a, and, the, when listing natively, ignore capitalization when listing song tag info,customizable music player with ability to move icons around, proper genre sorting (genre, artist, album, then song not genre, the a massive list of songs), better desktop media integration and sync through itunes, better movie downloads, better music downloads service, visual voicemail, cloud sync through icloud, voice commands, voice search, software keyboard, youtube app (an included app on ios,android & webos) that actually can log into your youtube account, working and very fast work google maps with many features like satellite view, traffic. An OS that starts up in under 40 seconds. Robust email client. With respect to ios, a generally more polished look of the interface. By that i mean look and rendering of icons with that gloss and shadows as well as all menus. Example, the graphics on the menus in ios look way better then those in webos. the colors are more pleasant with the greys, whites and blues. the title bars have a nice curve and sheen. Classy. And generally monumentally more app support. ibooks an exceptional, ereader with bookmarking, searching, toc access. Camera has HD mode, picture editing, redeye reduction, cropping, rotate functionality, Oh yeah Siri and it's features like voice texting, voice search, voice email, voice calendering, Safari is a better browser with a better interface. foldering on the desktop. Very long battery life. Easily lasts more then a full day on one charge. And copy and paste is implemented in a monumentally better way on ios.

Oh and lastly, NO LAG AND FEW CRASHES. It just works. Without patching. that's how they are better.

And your betamax vs vhs illustrates a bigger point. One VHS wasn't superior in any way that mattered to people deciding on standards. But if we assume your right that betamax was better and lost then it hurts your point by establishing that being better DOESN'T MATTER. Assuming it is better Nobody cared and thus if WebOS is like betamax it's doesn't help to continue to try to argue it's better when even from your example that does not matter much. Just like it doesn't matter that webos is better at multitasking and has synergy. Great but nobody outside of Precentral cares enough about that.

no one outside of Precentral even knows about multitasking and synergy...too bad, cause every phone I've had since my pre doesn't get close enough...

being better not mattering is EXACTLY my point....

No. you questioned the statement that webos was NOT better stating "Not a better os than what? Android that only got pdk games well after the pre minus did? "

sorry if that was your point you argued it poorly. My point was it's NOT better and even so nobody care but people on Precentral and people on precentral just don't matter big picturewise.

I'm starting to wonder if webOS was specifically designed to attract certain personality types that are prone to rigidity? Derek certainly makes a good case in point:

Waaah! My team lost, and I *refuse* to move on!

Speaking of which, why do I continue to read this irrelevant website and carry this ridiculous dinosaur of a Pre minus?

From a purely tablet experience I've no problem endorsing webOS over Android. It's simply easier to use and more intuitive than Android.

As I see it the reason for its "failure" was bad handling, bad marketing and bad word of mouth when it came to apps.

None of those have anything to do with webOS itself.

Multitasking and Synergy, although great for power users, are not enough to draw normal users to a platform. It has to work well long enough for them start exploring what the platform can do for them.

My wife's company offered to pay for her to get a data plan if she bought the device so she could respond to email quickly. She'd previously been on a basic feature phone. I set her up with my older Pixi Plus and she really liked the keyboard for sending out quick email. Even running in 2 weeks she was willing to pay the $200 to get an iPhone. It wasn't because of apps (she doesn't use any, just phone, texting, email, and occasionally the browser), or media (she's never used it to play music or video), or really any iPhone specific features. She kept getting frustrated that she'd touch a button on screen and the phone would seem to hang. It wasn't even that it was slow, just that she'd try to do something and get no response for a few seconds. Admittedly, my Pre2 and TouchPad do the same thing (with the TouchPad being the worst offender). She got better feedback from the iPhone, and because of that she was willing to part with $200, a 2 year contract extension, and the lack of a physical keyboard.

It's hard to sell a product based on any wiz-bang feature if you don't have the basics working well. It's impossible to sell a product based on a wiz-bang feature to someone who doesn't give a **** and just wants the basics if your basics don't work right.

Reply against that NY Times article about it:


Unfortunately I agree with the NY Times article but I'm not as pessimistic about WebKit as he is.

That's a really great article. I love how it spoke to BOTH sides of the issue, i.e. there things outside of webOS that went wrong just as there were things with webOS itself that went wrong.

Excellent article Derek. You have a gift for writing!

For me the decision to buy the Pre was an easy one. When I first read about its debut at CES 2009 I was seriously blown away by what it could do, and the fact it won "Best in Show" really caught my attention. So, I decided right then and there to buy a few option contracts on Palm and 2 days later when the stock skyrocketed I closed out my options at a $10,000 profit. So, I would have been a traitor to go with anything else after the Pre had already earned me so much. It's now 2.5 years later and I still love using my Pre- as my primary phone.

One thing which wasn't brought up by Derek and no one mentioned so far was the ridiculous Too Many Cards errors that saddled the ability of the Pre- to seriously multitask. The easy solution to this was to reboot, but how many users have the patience to wait for that? The homebrew community came through with software to resolve this (compcache or uberkernel?) and since installing that I've never had the TMC issue again. Why Palm did not roll out this open source solution in a general release boggles my mind because it made all the difference in usability.


Thanks for bringing me down memory lane. WebOS and it's hardware was a prime example of how easily it is to make bad project decisions. Going with Sprint was a bad decision made because it was the easiest and less costly path. Yes, Verizon would not let Palm get away with some bad design issues but I believe they were not interested. AT&T already had the iPhone under exclusive contract so they had no reason to work with Palm.

We might have 20/20 hindsight for some decisions, but it was so blatantly obvious that Leo's were bad, not only for WebOS, but for HP as a whole. That it wasn't obvious to the board speaks volumes. It reminded me of RCA's decision to get into VideoDiscs based upon pressed vinyl record technology while all others were going optical based. Most of the engineer's mouths dropped open when we heard that.

I also don't buy the whole notion that WebKit was the root of the problem. The real problem was that they didn't have the expertise to fix it's limitations. During my career I've managed to squeak up to 30x performance improvement in products believed to be fully optimal. It takes a deep commitment and an appropriate toolchain to be able to do something like this. At one point I had to study the assembly output of the compiler in a critical code section and rewrite it so the compiler generated much better code.

People that cut their teeth on microprocessors that had limited performance and memory understand this pain, many others have no clue. So many of my co-workers expect the "next-generation" hardware to solve their issues.

Now that Derek has so eloquently eulogized webOS, can we officially call it dead?

Sorry Derek, in 2,000 beautifully chosen words, all you did was say what the community has been saying from the beginning; the problem is anything but WebOS. You did not actually refute the original article. You just pointed out a bunch of other things that went wrong.

From the beginning, I said pretty much what was said in the original article. WebOS was a shortcut in almost every way. It was fundamentally flawed from conception to execution. I know you can never agree with that because once you do, then it's all over for this community. I don't hold that against you. But to say that the people who worked on the project are wrong seems a bit of a reach to me.

I agree. Palm's whole deal was to overpromise and underdeliver.

Great point. Just because Palm/HP did a bunch of things wrong management-wise does not mean that the software is good. Isn't software development driven by management, too?

Let's face it - Palm/HP did almost EVERYTHING wrong starting form day -365 when they got stuck with Palm OS too long. RIM is going down for the same reason. By the time of the Pre launch, Palm was a significant underdog and had to latch on to a 2nd tier carrier for an exclusive. Once they burned that bridge then it was all over.

The TP was simply a chunky, heavy miss in a sea of thin and light. No Beatz Audio, TTS, Synergy, fire-sale pay-you-to-use-it plan was going to save it. Keeping it on the market even a few months long would have been throwing good money after bad. That's so obvious that only the die-hard delusional people in the forums can't see it.

I read these comments and must add from a non-geek phone owner the following opinion. First I was an Alltel Palm Treo 650 owner which I still own and would still be using as a phone and PDA if Verizon would not want to charge me an arm and leg to keep it hooked up. The Verizon data plan was cheaper with a new phone. When my wife and I went looking for a new phone, I was intrigued by the Pre+ and my wife loved the actual key board. I wanted at first to get and Iphone to go with my Imac computer, but the virtual keyboard did not appeal to either of us. The Pixie screen was too small for my old eyes so we picked the Pre Plus for both of us. Phone and system was great, though I missed the original Treo PDA apps. I could navigate with Delorme, or Tom Tom on my Treo and I still use it in the car for this purpose even though the maps are well out of date. But my wife and I loved our Pre's. Then disaster struck, My wife dropped her Pre+ and scratched the screen. A few weeks later, she left the phone setting in the car in the GA heat. When she returned, the screen was cracked in many places, making the phone useless. You could dial numbers on the keypad but nothing else worked. My wife took it back to the Verizon store, where they would only replace if we paid new price for one. I then discovered what I as an engineer consider a design flaw. The cracking screen. This to me did the phone in. I have given my pre+ to my Wife, and I bought a Pre-3 and love it, but size is too big for wife. I am sure that the quality of build was the demise to this phone and system. The software is not a problem for me just quality of hardware. My wife's contract is about up and Its either a pre 2 or an Iphone. My daughter has a Android phone and it is a piece of junk. Hard to use and it just quit working. Wish palm had got hardware quality right the first time.

To place the blame at Sprint's doorstep is a cheap shot. As I recall, Sprint had an effective launch of the Palm Pre. Store staff were trained, excited, and the roll-out was smooth. In those early days, Sprint and Palm were great partners. Sprint's advertising for the Pre was top-notch (better than Palm's!).

One of the weirdest aspects of the failure of webOS, on a software level, is that it was too clean and elegant. Seriously.

I honestly lost count very early on of the number of people who would look at my phone, clean desktop, simple top-bar, notifications dashboard, and get this furrowed-brow puzzled look. Like, "That's it? Where are the buttons to launch stuff? Where are the widgets? Where is everything?"

Of course, when I'd demonstrate the launcher, the cards, gestures, universal search, and (especially) the wave launcher, their eyes would widen, but until then, webOS was just too clean and elegant to be immediately obviously as powerful as it was.

You folks can keep saying that webOS wasn't "vastly superior" to iOS and Android all you want, but you're wrong. It was, and in many respects it still is. But webOS is a modern brushed steel roll-top desk, and the vast majority of consumers, if they don't see stacks and clutter spilling everywhere, think there's nothing going on.

This isn't a matter of people "not caring about" what webOS did (and does). This is exactly what Derek says it is ... it's a matter of people not even understanding what webOS did and does, because it was too clean and elegant.

I think people are not fully understanding the balanced essay that was written; his arguments point to the Achilles heel(s) that were plaguing WebOS and that was a lack of marketing precision, hardware, third-party app selection, and pricing (Touchpad). WebOS as an OS is on par if not better than the competitors, but having the best technically/logically-designed OS does not merit success - the other components such as hardware/apps constitute the overall experience.

WebOS as an OS is on par if not better than the competitors...

Except that, where it mattered, it isn't...not even remotely so.

well said....

everyone has ideas of what They think

webOS didn't fail its just getting out of secound gear now

we are the webOS nation...lets act like it people

I'm far more interested in the future of webOS,than bickering about the past and the various fiascos of Sprint and Pre. I remember when the Android G1 was one of the most openly despised handsets on the market, this now almost forgotten. As it stands now webOS is the only mobile OS that can come close to a computer. Tablets are beginning to surpass netbooks. The OS is the conundrum that bedevils the tablet. iOS is intentionally incapacitated as not to compete with the Macbook Air, yielding an enlarged ipod/iphone, Android is a malware ridden and fragmented mess, their great hope ics only runs on .06 of Android devices. WebOS is free and unencumbered, let's move forward

Well, I guess being homeless is a kind of freedom.

Do you really think that webOS comes closest to being a computer? You've got major-blinders on, then. Don't get a big head because you just got document editing, now.

What gets one closest to PC functionality is apps - either ones developed by the PC software vendor or using something like Citrix. Right now that means iOS.

Don't worry, HP has its sights on solving your needs - Windows 8 tablets. That's why they dumped webOS.

inebriated1 you ever used an iPad2 to accomplish anything? iOS is a prison.

Is this the same prison Palm tried to break into with iTunes hacks and a PDK?

Unfortunately yes in a desperate maneuver,by then iTunes had killed the record industry.I'm still amazed that the FCC and the record labels passively stood by as they were raped. No Anti-trust, no anything. I think of iTunes as the SS of the mobile world

As someone who's spent a few (25+) years developing on and off, and watching them trying to put hardware support underneath a web-based software system, I always had the impression that devloping for the WebOS was a royal pain. Not having a voice recorder and video camera out of the box? Ridiculous.

Seriously, read that again.

Ridiculous. Ri-freaking-dicu-freaking-lous.

HPalm definitely made every possible mistake you can name, I won't argue with that, but to say it had a clean software development environment has to be suspect.

I can also appreciate getting *something* out there and trying to get mods out as quickly as possible so you have income from released commercial products fund ongoing development (this is particularly helpful if you get first-mover advantage, which HPalm did not by a long shot), but fixes, patches, and upgrades were way too slow.

And then there was the matter of...










...which were kind of slow if I recall.

webOS was and still is slow, buggy, and a pure hobbyist platform. I do not understand why so much time is wasted on these editorials when it could be better spent solving the hunger problem.

Well, it's not like there is going to be much webOS news from now on so if an article appears in the NY Times then it's almost certainly worth commenting on. What else is there to do? Speculate about new hardware? Announce big apps? New carrier agreements? Market share trends?

This is the part of the wake where everybody fights.

Another complete joke of an article.

It's interesting that Android started out with either the exact same disadvantages (G1 was a crappy slider with a smaller screen than the iPhone too, but even worse color quality than the Pre) or even WORSE (Android was exclusive to T-Mobile in America for TWELVE months whereas the Pre moved to Verizon from Sprint in just six months), yet is now standing at the top with iOS.

Oh, and they did it with an uglier, arguably worse operating system (Android 1.5-2.2).

But aren't you comparing an OS w/ Multiple phone and BILLIONS of dollars to a singular Phone.. 1 phone..

.... Just 1 phone bud

They started the EXACT SAME WAY. WebOS had two phones in its first twelve months. So did Android.

"Billions of dollars" didn't enter the picture. Android was stuck with crappy advertising (anyone remember the cavalcade of C and B-list celebrities passing the MyTouch back and forth on those T-Mobile commercials?) and also the nations's SMALLEST national carrier.

Yet, it was still a moderate success, OS development proceeded at a pace FAR beyond webOS, and then they launched well on both Sprint (The HTC Hero) and on Verizon (Droid) when they had a more mature product. They also had almost 20,000 apps and counting BEFORE Verizon sold one Droid.

When did webOS have a mature product at launch? The Veer? The Touchpad?!?! Pffft. When will WebOS get to 20,000 apps (keep in mind, even Windows Phone 7 is at 50K+)? When will they have a popular phone form factor (slab)?

We're waiting for webOS to reach the bar of Android 2.0 of 2009.

I never said WebOS had a mature product at launch, and I wasn't defending WebOS on that merit.

I'm merely stating that your going to have more people buy your product & more people make apps for your product when you have more products available & more money spent on advertising..
Both things you can't argue with

Of course I can argue with that.

Android achieved both more sales and far more apps when they were in a worse situation (smaller carrier, longer exclusive) than Palm was with WebOS. Did it with crappier hardware too.

Put another way...6 months after Android launched, T-Mobile announced that they had sold 1 million HTC G1 devices alone (MyTouch was just launching, I think).

NINE months after the Pre launched on Sprint, Palm was announcing sellthrough of less than 50 percent across four devices and two carriers in their quarterly earnings (and keep in mind, they shipped 960K or so).

'Worse Situation' Seriously? I can't believe you or anyone can think that. The pre was Palms first phone in like 2 years, they had VERY LITTLE advertisements except for the word that was spreading around the internet.

It's all well and good that you THINK palm spent like millions of dollars advertising & had an advantage over Google.. But it's straight up insane.

Google spent tons more on advertising & also had less competition amongst the crappy phones that T-mobile carried at the time.

In other news. Are you even a WebOS fan? I don't understand why someone would go so far out of their way & hit up a webos website just to talk about how Great Android is... I do believe there is an Android button at the top of this webpage & I strongly suggest you click it..

That might be the one thing I will never understand about these forums/comments is that so many of you are actually IOS & Android fans coming to WebOSnation

You should apply to become a moderator in the forums here. They seem to take the same narrow-minded approach to categorizing readers/commenters as you do. You'd likely be welcomed with open arms.

G1 commercials were - pretty much like Palm Pre commercials - an absolute joke. See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MlMW5ei6Rs

And what competition did the Pre have on Sprint? The Instinct?!?!

Anyway...ace conclusion you drew from my comments. I use Windows Phone, mate. Android is a pretty good operating system, but I haven't written one sentence singing its praises in this thread. I HAVE, however, cited the FACT that it had similar disadvantages (some worse) to the Pre, yet managed to overcome them even before The Droid got a Verizon blitz.

1 million units of ONE device sold to consumers on the smallest carrier in 6 months = success.
Barely able to sell 400K between two much bigger carriers amongst FOUR devices 9 months after launch = failure.

The instinct came out w/ a lot of expectations and a lot of people bought into it by mistake. Me being one of them. Luckily I was a quote "Premier" sprint customer where I only had to wait another 2 months before I could get the pre.

Most people interested in the Smart phones at that time on sprint were already locked in w/ the Instinct.

So good phone or not.. There was a TON of people screwed by that phone, and it actually scared 2 people I know from even buying the Pre.

Sprint would have lost me ages ago if not for the pre...and yes, I almost fell for the Instinct... A buddy bought one and the memories still make me shudder when looking at Samsung phones...

That pretty much killed whatever credibility you had left if you actually bought that dumbphone.

Bought it by mistake? Whatever..

I like it and appreciate the input. Yes I also agree that webOS had its flaws...but has any of you looked at Android 2.3.4 (running on 90% of all Android devices) lately?

My advice...if you have a Pre 2, FrankenPre, or maybe even a Pre 3...keep them cranking and don't switch. Android has been a HUGE disappointment and gets so much credit for something that really SUCKS!

WebOS needed work, HP/Palm marketing needed work, and so does most everything in the tech industry. Either way, without money all you have is passion supported by 1000 (okay 10k) fans. Sadly, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are the only ones left with enough CASH to make it happen! Sorli...

Derek, excellent article. I know you are probably disheartened by many of the comments above. It’s like they didn’t even read your article or didn't understand your point that IT'S NOT THE CODE PEOPLE. It was the many things that you pointed out in your article and what PreDogs said in his comments. Don’t worry and keep writing for the WebOS community

It's not an either/or. The OS has been problematic for quite some time AND lots of tactical errors were made re: advertising, form factors, partnerships, etc.

Acting like webOS is without blame and on par with iOS, Windows Phone, and Android as either an operating system or an ecosystem is just plain fantasy.

It WAS the code that kept big name app developers from being able to offer their product because of lack of access to needed APIs.

It WAS the code that kept motivated homebrew developers like the guy behind Music Player Remix from being able to widely offer their creations.

It WAS the code that made swiping through photos a laggy experience as you waited for each picture to render fully and unpixelated.

It WAS the code that created hideously long bootup times.

It WAS the code that offered a default browser that started and remains firmly behind the competition in stability, speed, and functionality.

It WAS the code that delivered barebones apps that still have boilerplate menus that aren't even applicable.

It WAS the code that stopped being updated well over EIGHTEEN months ago on the largest amount of purchased webOS devices (original Pre/+/Pixi/+).

Quote from Derek's article that you did not read...

"Like I said, software can be improved. In fact, webOS was improved. It took a few months, but paid app support eventually arrived. Seven months after the Pre and webOS were released on Sprint, webOS 1.4.5 with PDK native code support (think in-depth gaming) and the upgraded Palm Pre Plus launched on Verizon. But the plan was still broken on the messaging front."

Your points above make it sound like you think code is a sentient being and that it is what is is like people are. No Jerry, people create code. People decide to improve(and where to improve) or not to improve the code. That's the "plan" the Derek is saying that Palm then HP failed at.

It WAS the poor "plan" that created and or never address many shortcomings that WebOS had. And yes they were addressable but it's too late.

That's the crux of Derek's point....


By this logic, no product has ever failed. It was just some poor decision made somewhere along the line that failed. The products themselves were fine.

I'm running out to buy a new Microsoft Kin to use with my '85 Yugo.

By your logic products "only" fail because they are defective. But you did not say "only" and I won't put words in your mouth. For the record did I say that no product ever failed because it sucked. We are saying that is not the case with WebOS.

Stop being so absolutist. Parts of WebOS did and still do suck. Critical parts, in fact.

I'm not going to act as if the product is entirely worthless. It was certainly appealing and intriguing enough for me to buy a Pre and my wife a Pixi. That phone still works great for her, BTW.

But I find it interesting that NO postmortems around here want to look at the failures of the OS extensively.

What's more likely to be improved in the post-open source age of WebOS: Its biggest software flaws or the releasing and advertising strategies of manufacturers and carriers?

Any talk of the latter is futile at this point.

and it was the decisions made by people in the aforementioned article that made the code turn out that way, unless you think code writes and updates itself...

No product is sentient, yet many of them suck.

Why is this so difficult to grasp?

Claiming that someone was "first" in anything is always a strong claim. And usually easily rebuttable: Maemo on Nokia N900 had something similar to Synergy, and the concept was there even before Maemo turned into a phone platform with Maemo 5. Maybe it was the first relatively widespread implementation, but that's surely much different to being the first.

That's one of the reasons why patents in software development suck: there is no way of knowing that someone, somewhere hasn't already implemented something.

@taharka: as far as "unsuccessful" goes, Yugos have been sold in a number exceeding 750k. If it wasn't for the political turmoil, it might have actually turned quite profitable for the parent company as well.

Specifically the '85 Yugo. Maybe I've got the year wrong, but there is one model year that was pretty bad. I think it made a few "worst car ever" lists over the years.

Derek, I love what you guys have done and I have followed this site since I got my first original Sprint Pre way back then, which by the way is still working. I also have the TouchPad so I have paid my money to this community. No that said – stop whining and stop re-hatching history. If you want to do something for the people that love and think that webOS should have a future then let’s build that future. You (and this is not an attack on you but should be seen as constructive feedback) wasted a year by waiting and crying. As I see it I should every morning go to your web side and see options, I should be thrilled about all the action that the home brewers have done in like new or upgraded apps or patches that will outrun the world. My Touchpad as my Pre have only had a cable attach a handful of times the rest is wireless as one would expected on a wireless device. They are nicely synced with each other and the rest of my office and life. My counterpart that has iProduct cannot say the same. It is time to get positive and look at this glass as not empty but a glass that can hold a lot of good stuff. Let spend 2012 with stories and ideas to the Open Source Developers so we keep them busy and the millions of webOS user can smile every time their small fingers are sliding of the screens. I love you dude, but let’s grow up!

There were so many software, hardware and marketing missteps, WebOS was like the keystone cops. The textbook version of "How not to launch new technology." And yet I adored (and still adore) it. But I'm a hopeless Palm/WebOS fanatic, unlike the rest of the world.

Terrible hardware - underpowered, poor quality, wrong form factors. Hyping products way too long before launching them. Then launching products before they were ready. It seemed like nothing was ever right.

But if you forced me to point to one thing that was the issue, it came down to three letters: L-A-G. If you tap on a screen, you should get an immediate response. Even if it's not what you expect, something should happen right away. Otherwise, you get double-tapping or the dreaded icon-throbbing. It renders the device unusable. People don't have the patience to wait - they will assume their tap wasn't recognized, and will tap again, so that once the system does awaken, they're taken somewhere other than where they were supposed to go.

I'm not a coder, so I can't say for sure if this is a software issue, but whether it was software, hardware, or a combination of both, it was the death knell. The TP was the last straw. If, after 2 years, it still lags that badly, (and yes it got better post-launch, but launch lag was dreadful) it would never work.

Multi-tasking was brilliant - I loved it for the 2 years I had my Pre-. But launching a single task quickly, or getting any single app to work without lag never happened, so using cards to go from one slow app to another was never REALLY that great.

Having tried cutting and pasting anything from one app to another in Android, it's frustrating and barely worth the trouble. WebOS was so elegantly simple. But when it takes 8 seconds to open an email, or 5 minutes to boot the phone, it's little solace.

Much as I dislike the fruit, whenever you pick up an iPhone and touch it, it does something. Right away. On launch, it did single things well, rather than trying to do complicated things. WebOS went for multi-tasking and synergy over just having great photo and music apps. Sigh. What might have been.

Is Derek the only one left on Precentral? I remember when i first joined the site there were many writers. Now it's just Derek. I guess they all jumped ship.

He's the warmup act for Ashley Esqueda now.

Uh, I'd be Ashley Esqueda's fluffer, for sure.

Derek forgot to mention 'in the coming months'.

I was on the webOS team. Important points:

1. Paul Mercer was highly encouraged to quit. He was a terrible engineer and horrible person--possibly the worst person in the entire team. I'd never work at a company with him again, nor would anyone else in the webOS team. He's trying to re-run an argument he lost in 2007 to much more intelligent people.

2. WebKit's not to blame. Apple builds half their iOS apps on it. Microsoft is building Win8 on it.

3. If anyone is to blame, it's that Palm was running out of money and couldn't staff up, then Leo eviscerated us when we were supposed to be staffing up. We had smart engineers, but not enough of them. Meg is trying to fix this. I hope she does.

Ok, this guy is bullshitting everyone; Microsoft is doing nothing of the sort with Webkit. Microsoft has had its own browser engine, Trident, for almost 15 years now.

Also, the claim that Apple "builds half their iOS apps" on Webkit is also bullshit. They build them in native Objective-C.

Are the fanbois really resorting to this imitation?

There were ideas in webOS that were great. The implementation of those ideas was never quite as good as the ideas. I went through 3 Pre-'s on Sprint and made a FrankenPre2 that I used for 6 months. I recently joined the "diaspora" and got a fruity device last fall (still on Sprint). There are only a slim handful of things that I miss from the Pres:

1. Touchstone.
2. (distant second place) Gestures (fwd/back, app switch, launcher).
3. Also distant: synergy contacts are slightly better than iOS.

IMO, the thing that Derek seems to be misinterpreting is that it's not the ideas that are bad (e.g. the card metaphor is great), it's that the implementation of the superior ideas isn't perfect.

webOS is worse than iOS and Android in many important ways. It's superior in ways that appear not to matter to the general marketplace.

The webOS hardware was worse than Apple's in many important ways (and better in a few), and there are Android devices that are both worse and better. Due to competition, those android devices get ignored, but we haven't had a choice with webOS.

In retrospect, there were many clear problems with the management, hardware, and software at every stage in the game. They were slow to market and slow to innovate/improve/fix. I loved my Pre's and homebrew kept me going for a while, but the competition was and is simply doing a better product overall.


Touchstone is my #1 missing feature as well. I really wish the competition would copy this. Such a great feature.

In retrospect, there were many clear problems with the management, hardware, and software at every stage in the game. They were slow to market and slow to innovate/improve/fix. I loved my Pre's and homebrew kept me going for a while, but the competition was and is simply doing a better product overall.

+1 Very well stated.