In the wake of HP re-committing to webOS (as an open source project), we go in-depth with ten things HP could do to bring the platform back into competition with Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
Also as an added bonus, something yours truly blew thousands of dollars on.
#10 – Bring all webOS devices to the latest version of webOS
When Jon Rubinstein said the Palm Pre, Pixi, Pre Plus, and Pixi Plus were getting webOS 2, we hailed it as important in the firmware wars. It meant that HP was going to compete with Apple, not just on features, but on customer service.
When Palm (and Jon) later said they were going to backtrack on it, and only offer a $50 rebate on new devices as an apology… we saw the cracks forming in webOS.
HP could easily offer people an update to webOS 2.2.4 on all current webOS devices. The past excuses of a broke Palm are no longer valid. The notion that carriers would refuse to offer the update is as bogus as when Palm was trying to shovel the excuse down our throats last year.
This is a no-brainer, there is a team sitting on their rear ends in Sunnyvale that could get on this tomorrow. And there are hackers out there that have done most of the work for them already.
#9 – Get a reliable, free turn-by-turn GPS app out there
One thing Windows Phone learned the hard way is that a device ecosystem now demands at least one, viable, working turn-by-turn GPS app… that’s free. iOS has mostly gotten a pass on the free part, but their ecosystem has turn-by-turn apps that are nearly free at as low as a buck. Google Maps Navigation gives Android the top-tier status, and Windows Phone 7.5 finally answered the call with Bing turn-by-turn, a feature that used to be gratis on Windows Mobile 6.
HP has just signed a deal with Bing (prior to the webOS fallout) to move all maps away from Google. Bing offers turn-by-turn GPS on Windows Phones (and has since Windows Mobile 6).
This one may not have an instant coding solution, but there are options here. TeleNav has also rolled out an HTML5 turn-by-turn app, it wouldn’t be hard to cut a check to integrate Enyo into that, and make it a full-fledged webOS app.
#8 – Get Enyo out the door immediately
It is understandable that open-sourcing an entire operating system can take time. Code audits, testing, internal planning has to be done to get that right. HP isn’t going to do that in a month, or in a few months probably.
The nice thing about Enyo is its potential to be disruptive to frameworks such as Sencha Touch. The problem, since day one, has been HP’s restrictive and confusing licensing.
From a developer’s standpoint, there may be some need to make Enyo platform-independent (it is heavily tied to webOS for a few UI calls), but the viability of Enyo gets lower with each passing day. Getting it out there with a vibrant developer community ready to go is key… and the clock is ticking on this one, more than webOS itself.
The importance to webOS is that Enyo is fine-tuned for webOS. Apps written for iPhone, Android, and even desktop that are based on Enyo will fly on webOS… whenever the platform emerges.
#7 – Be a bit like Google in the device ecosystem
Google waited until Android was ubiquitous before issuing their own Android hardware. And long before the notion of purchasing Motorola Mobility.
HP is in a bad position, strategically. HP is primarily a hardware company. If some other device manufacturer picks up webOS and runs with it… there’s nothing stopping HP from shipping a device within six months that tries to capitalize on the newfound success in webOS. Whoever decides to pick up where webOS left off (other than HP) runs the risk of losing their return on investment.
There are ways to ensure this kind of success, without sacrificing the ability to be competitive. For example, HP could offer free licensing to some of the Palm patents, in exchange for supporting webOS. A device maker like HTC could offer webOS devices that support Touchstone technology, and deliver unique qualities that drive people to purchasing that gear.
#6 – Offer patents for embracing webOS
HTC, Samsung, and Motorola are locked in a bitter patent war with Apple. HP has enough patents to knock Apple back in line by offering them up to these device manufacturers.
That said, HP is playing pretty smart by not offering them up. Companies like HTC have offered hundreds of millions in M&A for companies like S3 Graphics, simply on the hope that they would strike a blow at Apple.
HP is one of the few companies that this trio can turn to in a last-ditch effort to get out from under Apple’s patent control. And that allows HP to ask for monumental amounts of cash for access to those patents. This is why many believed the acquisition of Palm would pay off just in the cost of the patents alone… webOS being left to rot.
All we’re saying is that HP can sweeten the pot on these kind of patent deals by offering rebates in exchange for fostering webOS device support. With Android facing similar turmoil from Microsoft, nothing is really stopping HP here from making the terms very favorable regardless.
#5 – Unify webOS 2 & 3 with a consistent roadmap
Currently webOS 2.0 and 3.0 co-exist, much like Android 2.0 and 3.0 coexisted for smartphones and tablets, respectively.
The problem is this evolving strategy, which didn’t work very well for either HP or Google, is over with in the industry. Android 4 unified smartphone and tablet branches. There performance delta of a smartphone is now getting close enough to tablets that, whenever webOS re-emerges, there will need to be one unified branch.
The challenge here, however, is that webOS apps will be built on today’s webOS devices, not devices that ship a year or two from now. The next version of webOS will have to transcend more hardware than Android or iOS to operate effectively. From a technical standpoint, it may be one of the most difficult challenges facing the future of webOS from a design standpoint.
Equally important for HP will be communicating a roadmap that outlines how this evolution will take place. This is one key area that MeeGo faltered on left and right.
#4 – Fund webOS app development by third-parties
Palm spent VC money like a drunken sailor. I’ve met people that got five-figure checks from Palm without even a deliverable in sight.
HP eventually watered that down to offering cheap devices and unlocked phones.
Both of these are two extremes for an emerging platform. Nobody should write blank checks for apps that haven’t materialized, unless you’re getting some major equity in the deal. Likewise, a device in a box is not going to build an app, it’s a support ecosystem that matters. That support was flocking right out the doors of HP amid the webOS Decision Turmoil.
Funding isn’t just in dollars and cents. For a startup, flying your lead coders out to webOS headquarters in Sunnyvale, and lending webOS internal devs for a day can be a huge win for both parties. Having open pathways for developers to ask for that kind of support need to be built out.
Developers now have devices, but no support ecosystem. Funding is a major part of helping there, but it needs to be targeted, managed, and have outreach. This goes hand-in-hand with a stable roadmap, something we touched on above.
#3 – Embrace webOS on device types that smartphone platforms struggle with
Right before MeeGo got its knees cut out from under it, the platform had a burgeoning future with in-vehicle entertainment, in-flight entertainment, TV, and many other platforms. I should know, I had invested thousands personally in MeeGo R&D, in these areas.
Today there are no monolithic platforms that run on an open-source kernel, and perform well in these kinds of emerging areas. Google TV has not performed well in the marketplace. Other pre-built Linux products offer little support and lots of lip service.
If HP can internally design working proof-of-concepts, backed with SDKs and APIs, this will be a winner for webOS. Even if webOS isn’t successful in smartphones, it will certainly make those people in Sunnyvale not seem like they’re on a road to nowhere… and instead make webOS feel like a valiant effort.
#2 – Rehire, rehire, rehire
webOS lacks so much right now in terms of team members. There isn’t even a public relations person (which we can locate) at HP who oversees webOS at the moment.
HP has two choices with webOS; make it a skunkworks-style project that rots in the heads of engineers after-hours… or embrace it and provide the support staff that can make it a success today.
We sincerely hope HP chooses the latter, and not the former.
#1: Get source code out there… quickly!
This one shouldn’t require explanation. If webOS 3 sits on the shelves for six months, with no new code, it’s going to be a tough sell to anyone.