An early release of WebOS 2.0 for developers demonstrates that the mobile OS still has some life in it, and indicates that new WebOS devices are on the horizon. Rival platforms should be prepared for another strong player in the smartphone and tablet arenas, and avoid counting WebOS out too quickly.
The information about WebOS 2.0 on the Palm Developer Center site suggests some interesting innovations for the next incarnation of WebOS. Stacks takes the card metaphor from WebOS and groups–or stacks–related cards. Just Type takes the concept of search beyond the universal search model by enabling virtually any task on the phone to be initiated by just starting to type. Exhibition provides creative functions for WebOS devices while they are docked.
Suffice it to say there are some unique features that bring some pizazz to WebOS 2.0, but none of the details for the new WebOS suggest that there is anything groundbreaking about it as a mobile OS. So, should Apple, Google, RIM, or Microsoft even pay attention to WebOS? Rivals don’t need to be concerned about WebOS in and of itself, but the combination of WebOS with the marketing and distribution power of HP is another story.
Marketing and distribution often trump engineering and innovation. Many technically superior concepts have gone extinct because they lost the marketing and distribution war: Sega Dreamcast, IBM OS/2, HD DVD are good examples. WebOS could easily join that list, but WebOS 2.0 signals that the mobile OS isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Some have argued (and many still do) that WebOS is a technically superior mobile operating system than Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, or any other smartphone OS on the market. Whether or not that is true, Palm was unsuccessful at taking any significant chunk of the smartphone market and was eventually bought by HP.
Now, WebOS has a second chance–and this time it has the marketing credibility and established sales and distribution channels of HP on its side. An excellent technology with poor marketing is doomed. A poor technology with excellent marketing can succeed. An innovative technology with superior marketing is virtually guaranteed.
Even more than competing smartphones, rival tablet platforms should keep an eye on WebOS 2.0. HP has already revealed that a WebOS tablet is being developed, and the elements of WebOS that make it such a solid mobile OS for smartphones will make it an even better mobile OS for tablets. A WebOS tablet–especially a WebOS tablet with an HP brand and marketing budget–will be a formidable challenger for the iPad and the emerging stable of Android tablets.
WebOS 2.0 is expected to be available by the end of this year. There are nohardware specs for new WebOS smartphones, tablets, or other devices yet, but, its coming soon and competing platforms have reason to be concerned.