Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why I think WebOS died

There have been a lot of articles on why webOS died of late. A bunch are quoting internal naysayers, and generally talking about how hard it is to start a new OS, etc. But I actually used the hell out of webOS out of the gate. I like to try new things, but in this case another manufacturer wanted a solid take on the new system, so I (and some others at the agency) soaked up all the data we could (legally) get, and did a deep heuristic eval on the original Pre. 

Then I kept carrying it around. It was damned good. I say, better than any first generation OS has any right to be, and good enough I didn't overly miss out on a quite narrow app selection or any other key limits. What I think killed it was stagnation. Here's a quick look: 

WebOS introduced with the Pre on Sprint (US) January 2009. Device sells out the first weekend it's sold. By the end of 2009, they have at least 6.1% (comscore) smartphone marketshare. Which is pretty good for 11 months, on only one carrier. 

April 2010, HP buys Palm. Rejoicing. Some stuff HP was doing on the edges with home media PCs and touchscreen-everything (including some stuff I was sorta working with) made this make perfect sense to me. 

Then... nothing happens. At all. Oh sure, like 7 months later they say they'll integrate it into all their products (again, I totally, 100% get this) but they do effectively /nothing/ for a year. 

Meanwhile, until the announcement they are killing the platform in mid 2011:
  • April - iPads go on sale
  • May - First 4G (okay, WiMax) handsets announced
  • June - iOS 4 and all-new iPhone 4
  • July - First Galaxy-S devices in the US
  • August - Droid 2 available
  • September - Blackberry Playbook (and QNX) announced
  • October - Windows Phones become available
  • December - Nexus S released with Gingerbread (Android 2.3)
  • January 2011 - Samsung launches Bada handsets (it's an OS)
  • February - Honeycomb (Android 3.0) on the Xoom; Mango (Windows Phone update) shown off 
So, not just lots of new devices and OSs and updates to choose from, but very believable promises. That's why I used the milestones above; because those were big stories, often for months before their release. 

Yes, you could rightfully say QNX is going nowhere, or worry about moving from bbOS, but they released a new piece of shiny hardware you could fondle in airport electronics stores, five months after the last interesting news from HP/Palm.

Oh, but at least the webOS message kept being muddled, with promises of OS upgrades also withdrawn, for example. And in May 2010 Matias Duarte left Palm.

What killed webOS was that there was no good reason to upgrade your phone, or for your friends to get one during that year-of-nothing-much. This is not a static market, and even a few months without news leaves you in the dust. Note that webOS didn't even bother precipitously dropping but just stagnated and slowly bled out.

And, what makes me sad, is that there is no real reason for this. I've been working in/with several Big Dumb Companies when they have a major reorganization or merger. And it's not that hard to keep working on the Big Important Projects. Sometimes all it takes is one person really jumping up and down and yelling about it, when the executives are off in executive retreats.

Now, I don't exactly know what happened to WebOS. The little bit of internal stuff I do know is not something I am free to share. But it seems as an outsider that stupid corporate policies -- or rather, a lack of any -- killed this OS. For no good reason.

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