The HP Pre 3 never was officially sold in the United States, though it came so close that thousands of AT&T-branded units were built and, eventually, liquidated to eBay sellers. As such, the most powerful webOS phone made to-date has received the least attention in HP’s home country.
AT&T aborted the stateside launch of the Pre 3 when it was informed of HP’s plans to abort webOS development, and promptly cancelled its order for the hardware. This left HP in a bind; it was required to sell off the hardware, but not acknowledge its existence to the public.
Now that HP has announced plans to rebuild webOS under an open-source license, the Pre 3 has gained importance as the primary device mule for rebuilding the platform. With HP no longer having its contingent of webOS developers, the Pre 3 now must serve to allow HP to rebuild the platform both internally, and with developers as they wait for new webOS smartphones to emerge. The Palm Pre 2 and HP Veer both suffer from much slower processors, and lack features such as a front-facing camera.
The update today is primarily a bug fix and rollup release, it does not add any new features, but has become available for both the AT&T Pre 3, as well as the “rest of world” unlocked Pre 3 that was sold abroad. The foreign version of the Pre 3 was officially launched, albeit at a fire sale price of $75… without contract.
The future development path for webOS remains significantly unclear, HP has not begun to hire new staff to restore attrition created from webOS developers jumping ship to other companies. HP has not even announced what open-source license webOS will operate under, though currently portions of webOS code is shared with the public under GPLv2.
Another concern for webOS’s future development path is how to unify the smartphone and tablet versions. Much like Android 2.0 and 3.0 branches, each webOS release was designed for smartphones and tablets, respectively. webOS however shares much more in-common between the two versions than the two Android branches, and as such, it is possible the Pre 3, Veer, and even Pre 2 could be updated to webOS 3, providing continuity to the branch.
Finally, it remains unclear who will lead webOS. iPod lead Jon Rubinstein was shuffled away from control of the webOS team as HP was planning to wind down webOS hardware. It has not been announced what role Rubinstein will play in the future of webOS at HP, if at all.