I never fell in love with BlackBerry’s OS. Actually, I never fell in love with any phone’s OS once I got used to the ‘wait-so-you’re-telling-me-I-can-do-more-then-spell-out-‘BOOBIES’-with-5-3-1-8-0-0-8′ phenomenon. This, of course, was until the current smartphone renaissance.
While corporate America played endless hours of Brickbreaker, the Blackberry always seemed like a bridge between an initial thought, a concept finally put into practice, and a taste of what to come. The browsing was marginal at best and the small screen real estate, innovative eight years ago, ceased to progress. Nevertheless, obviously the idea of a completely portable computer phone was exciting.
In my experience (to each his own- device bought/gambled on that didn’t pan-out), the next plateau of mobile computing was set by the Nokia N800. While not a phone, I did manage to place calls on the N800 over WiFi via Gizmo5 and Grand Central (currently Google voice). In theory what should have been a promising Maemo OS (Linux-based), with CLI (command line interfaces), the N800 never did enough to be warranted ‘useful’. The apps on the Nokia N800 never fully developed. Perhaps this is the root of Nokia’s hesitance to jump into the touch screen phone market?
Of course, there is the iPhone. It changed the landscape, looked impressive, and had an App market that was making progress. Most would agree the iPhone has been in a class all it’s own for the past half decade, I don’t think we need to spend much time recapping its exploits.
I could have been satisfied going all-in on the iPhone, but my inner-desire to find the next big thing turned my attention to the PalmPre, mainly due to rumors of it’s entirely new WebOS. It had a lot of weight riding on the device which furthered my interest in it succeeding. Would it be the phone/OS combo that saved a dying Palm? I had already seen Androids T-Mobile G1, and liked it, but wasn’t in love with it. But I was well sick of my aging BlackBerry Curve 3880. BlackBerry progress had clearly stalled, and it was time for me to move along into a more capable, touchscreen tablet phone.
Sprint had a Palm Pre for me on the day it came out, and delivered it to my office. The shape of the phone was comfortable in my hand. The smooth feel of a river rock. The TouchStone charging system looked great. But there were some serious limits in the device.
- The keyboard on the initial Palm Pre was too small. I gave up on slide out keyboards because of this device.
- The screen was too small to really have a good web experience.
- Sliding open the keyboard wasn’t a rewarding process. It felt cheap.
It is important to note that these were all hardware shortcomings. Let me focus on the positive elements of the actual device: webOS.
WebOS was, and is, a fantastic interface. It was elegant and simple and clean, and predictable. In several short days I had all of the nuances of its operation in my physical memory. Jumping between applications, and closing them or minimizing them, in a slide up or down card system, was natural. The notification system was slightly buggy, but in a 1.0 product is forgivable. The interface made natural intuitive sense. From the top down or the ground up, I seldom had to reboot the device. It worked and worked well. The entire OS was so well planned out that I have yet to see any interface I hold in such high regard and have yet to see that sort of design and interaction built into it from day one. Even Apple’s iPad and iOS don’t hold the same level of stature that webOS has impressed upon me.
Synergy was perfect. It intelligently took myriad sources of contacts and information that had been fragmented by other systems: GMail, Exchange, Facebook, etc., and linked the contacts together so the Inbox was easy to navigate, and combined for all communications. Leaving the Pre phone for the Android App pool and finding that this didn’t occur in Android took me weeks to get over. It took a long time for me to like and learn Android eclair at the time.
Palm did not have the gravity to gather enough developers to make the App Market take off. They had built webOS so that it was easy to make html apps quickly to lower the barriers to entry. But it was a long time before the marketplace had seriously engaged hardware accessing Apps that worked the underwhelming processor they had included in the Palm Pre. They followed up with a Pixi which was cheaper, less powerful and had a smaller screen. This was a failure, not on the level of the Microsoft Kin, but it was obvious that they had entirely misread the market place.
Now HP is releasing the VEER webOS smart phone and it hasn’t seen a lot of changes in physical form from the Palm Pre. It is tiny, minuscule and hasn’t learned from the mistakes of its previous incarnations. Putting this device out now and in this market is a misstep for HP. It won’t gain the traction that the Pre’s failed to gather, and will not persuade new developers or users to their corner. In fact, it may lose some of their core fan base who were
waiting longing for a device to step up with the proper screen real estate and processing power to make them proud.
The upcoming HP TouchPad has me very excited. Why? Because WebOS is that good. It innovated in a market full of me too’s. It was so well designed that Microsoft and RIM flat-out lifted their design and interface inspirations from WebOS for the Windows Phone 7 and QNX on the Blackberry PlayBook. I tend to fall into the Android camp as a user. Matias Duarte should be able to bring incredible and innovative changes to Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and perhaps some HoneyComb goodness will be brought in with the needed updates.
But WebOS hands down has a superior interface to Android- right now. While Matias will surely even the playing field, HP and webOS are currently positioned to beat out BlackBerry and Microsoft in the tablet and phone market. Personally I can’t wait to see what HP brings to the ring on the forthcoming Touchpad tablet.
HP Touchpad hardware specifications: