Tag Archives: webos

HP contributes webOS to open source. Where next for HP mobile devices?

HP has announced that webOS, the mobile operating system acquired with Palm, will become an open source project:

HP will make the underlying code of webOS available under an open source license. Developers, partners, HP engineers and other hardware manufacturers can deliver ongoing enhancements and new versions into the marketplace.

HP will engage the open source community to help define the charter of the open source project under a set of operating principles:

  • The goal of the project is to accelerate the open development of the webOS platform
  • HP will be an active participant and investor in the project
  • Good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation
  • Software will be provided as a pure open source project

Despite the upbeat language, the fact that HP does not state that it will actually manufacture any webOS devices suggests that this is more a retreat than an advance. What kind of investment will HP put into webOS, if it is not selling devices?

Another problem is that Google Android is doing a great job meeting the demand for a freely available and mostly open source mobile operating system, leaving little space for other projects such as webOS or the Intel-sponsored MeeGo.

The question that interest me: where will HP now go with its mobile devices? There are several possibilities. It could do nothing, and focus on servers and PCs, thereby missing out on what is potentially a huge market. It could throw its hand in with Microsoft, with Windows 8 tablets sometime next year, and maybe some future version of Windows Phone. Or it could embrace Android, which still seems to have unstoppable momentum despite poor sales for most Android tablets.

HP discontinues WebOS, considers PC spin-off. Should have stuck with Microsoft

Oh yes, and buys Autonomy, a fast-growing specialist in enterprise knowledge management.

Here’s the news from HP’s announcement:

As part of the transformation, HP announced that its board of directors has authorized the exploration of strategic alternatives for the company’s Personal Systems Group. HP will consider a broad range of options that may include, among others, a full or partial separation of PSG from HP through a spin-off or other transaction. (See accompanying press release.)

HP will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. The devices have not met internal milestones and financial targets. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.

In addition, HP announced the terms of a recommended transaction for all of the outstanding shares of Autonomy Corporation plc for £25.50 ($42.11) per share in cash.

A few quick comments. First, the failure of webOS does not surprise me. There is not much wrong with webOS as such; in pure technical terms it deserves better. Its focus on adapting web technologies for local mobile applications is far-sighted; it is a more interesting operating system than Android and in some ways it is surprising that it went to HP and not to Google, which is a web technology specialist.

The problem is that HP, despite its size, is not big enough to make a success of webOS on its own. This was my comment from just over a year ago:

Mobile platforms stand (or fall) on several pillars: hardware, software, mobile operator partners, and apps. Apple is powering ahead with all of these. Google Android is as well, and has become the obvious choice for vendors (other than HP) who want to ride the wave of a successful platform. Windows Phone 7 faces obvious challenges, but at least in theory Microsoft can make it work though integration with Windows and by offering developers a familiar set of tools, as I’ve noted here.

It is obvious that not all these platforms can succeed. If we accept that Apple and Android will occupy the top two rungs of the ladder when it comes to attracting app developers, that means HP webOS cannot do better than third; and I’d speculate that it will be some way lower down than that.

Frankly, if HP did not want to do Android, it should have stuck with Microsoft. But this is where the webOS news ties in with the announcement about he Personal Systems Group. HP fell out with Microsoft last year, as I noted in my 2010 retrospective. I said the two companies should make up; but it looks as if HP is more inclined to give up on PCs and pursue other lines that have better margins – like enterprise software.

I am puzzled though by the PSG announcement. It is always curious when a company announces that it might or might not do something, and the fact that HP says it is considering a spin-off of its PC division will be enough to makes its customers uncertain about the long-term future of HP PCs and some of them will buy elsewhere as a result. It would have paid HP either to say nothing, or to be more definite and aim for a speedy transition.

All this, on the eve of Microsoft’s detailed unveiling of Windows 8. What are the implications? More than I can put into a single post; but like Gartner’s reports of dramatically declining PC sales in Western Europe presented earlier this week, this is a sign of structural change in the industry.

Microsoft will be glad of one thing: it no longer has this major partner promoting a rival mobile and tablet operating system. Note that HP still is a major partner: even if it sells the Personal Systems Group, its server and services business will still be deeply entwined with Windows.

First look at HP’s TouchPad WebOS tablet

I took a close look at HP’s WebOS TouchPad tablet during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

This 9.7” machine looks delightful. One of its features is wireless charging using the optional Touchstone accessory. The same technology can also transmit data, as mentioned in this post on wireless charging, and the TouchPad makes use of this in conjunction with new WebOS smartphones such as the Pre3 and the Veer. Put one of these devices next to a TouchPad and the smartphone automatically navigates to the same URL that is displayed on the TouchPad. A gimmick, but a clever one.


From what I saw though, these WebOS devices are fast and smooth, with strong multitasking and a pleasant user interface. Wireless charging is excellent, and a feature you would expect Apple to adopt before long since it reduces clutter.

I still would not bet on HP winning big market share with WebOS. The original Palm Pre was released to rave reviews but disappointing sales, and HP will have to work a miracle to avoid the same fate.

Which mobile platforms will fail?

Gartner’s Nick Jones addressed this question in a blog post yesterday. He refers to the “rule of three” which conjectures that no more than three large vendors can succeed in a mature market. If this applies in mobile, then we will see no more than three survivors, after failures and consolidation, from the following group plus any I’ve missed. I have shown platforms that have common ownership and are already slated to be replaced in strikeout format.

  • Apple iOS
  • Google Android
  • Samsung Bada
  • Maemo MeeGo
  • RIM BlackBerry OS BlackBerry Tablet OS (QNX)
  • HP/Palm WebOS
  • Symbian
  • Windows Mobile Windows Phone 7 and successors

Jones says that success requires differentiation, critical mass, and a large handset manufacturer. I am not sure that the last two are really distinct. It is easy to fall into the tautology trap: to be successful a platform needs to be successful. Quite so; but what we are after is the magic ingredient(s) that make it so.

Drawing up a list like this is hard, since some operating systems are more distinct than others. Android, Bada, MeeGo and WebOS are all Linux-based; iOS is also a Unix-like OS. Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 are both based on Windows CE.

While it seems obvious that not all the above will prosper, I am not sure that the rule of three applies. I agree that it is unlikely that mobile app vendors will want to support and build 8 or more versions of each app in order to cover the whole market; but this problem does not apply to web apps, and cross-platform frameworks and runtimes can solve the problem to some extent – things like Adobe AIR for mobile, PhoneGap and Appcelerator. Further, there will probably always be mobile devices on which few if any apps are installed, where the user will not care about the OS or application store.

Still, pick your winners. Gartner is betting on iOS and Android, predicting decline for RIM and Symbian, and projecting a small 3.9% share for Microsoft by 2014.

I am sure there will be surprises. The question of mobile OS market share should not be seen in isolation, but as part of a bigger picture in which cloud+device dominates computing. Microsoft has an opportunity here, because in theory it can offer smooth migration to existing Microsoft-platform businesses, taking advantage of their investment – or lock-in – to Active Directory, Exchange, Office and .NET. In the cloud that makes Microsoft BPOS and Azure attractive, while a mobile device with great support for Exchange and SharePoint, for example, is attractive to businesses that already use these platforms.

The cloud will be a big influence at the consumer end too. There is talk of a Facebook phone which could disrupt the market; but I wonder if we will see the existing Facebook and Microsoft partnership strengthen once people realise that Windows Phone 7 has, from what I have seen, the best Facebook integration out there.

So there are two reasons why Gartner may have under-rated Microsoft’s prospects. Equally, you can argue that Microsoft is too late into this market, with Android perfectly positioned to occupy the same position with respect to Apple that worked so well for Microsoft on the desktop.

It is all too early to call. The best advice is to build in the cloud and plan for change when it comes to devices.

HP will not do Android or Windows Phone 7 smartphones – but what chance for webOS?

HP’s Todd Bradley, Executive Vice President of Personal Systems and formerly CEO of Palm, was interviewed by Jon Fortt at CNBC. Fortt asks some great questions which mostly get woolly answers, but did get this statement from Bradley:

We will not do a Linux, Android phone. We won’t do a Microsoft Phone … we’ll deliver webOS phones.

I will be interested to see if HP sticks to this commitment. HP is Microsoft’s biggest customer and huge in business systems, but that does not necessarily mean it can make a success of a mobile platform on its own.

Mobile platforms stand (or fall) on several pillars: hardware, software, mobile operator partners, and apps. Apple is powering ahead with all of these. Google Android is as well, and has become the obvious choice for vendors (other than HP) who want to ride the wave of a successful platform. Windows Phone 7 faces obvious challenges, but at least in theory Microsoft can make it work though integration with Windows and by offering developers a familiar set of tools, as I’ve noted here.

RIM Blackberry is well entrenched in the Enterprise and succeeds by focusing on messaging and doing it well. Nokia and Intel will jostle for position with MeeGo.

It is obvious that not all these platforms can succeed. If we accept that Apple and Android will occupy the top two rungs of the ladder when it comes to attracting app developers, that means HP webOS cannot do better than third; and I’d speculate that it will be some way lower down than that.

You have to feel for HP, which has supported Microsoft’s failing mobile platform for many years – with the occasional lapse, remember when it became an OEM vendor for Apple’s iPods? – and now has decided it cannot rely on the company in this area. That is understandable. However, HP is heavily invested in Windows. It may be choosing just the wrong moment to abandon ship; or it may find that doing its own thing with webOS is no better. Google Android would have been a safer though less interesting choice.

Dysfunctional Microsoft?

Microsoft watchers have been scrutinising the fascinating Mini-Microsoft post on the Kin smartphone debacle and what it says about the company. If it is even slightly accurate, it is pretty bad; and it must be somewhat accurate since we know that the hopeless Kin launch happened and that the product was killed shortly afterwards. Of course it would have been better to kill the project before rather than after the launch; the negative PR impact has affected the strategically important Windows Phone 7 launch.

Handsome profits from Windows and Office have enabled Microsoft to survive and even prosper despite mistakes like Kin, or the Xbox 360 “red ring of death”, or the Vista reset and related problems – mistakes on a scale that would sink many companies.

I see frequent complaints about excessively bureaucratic management with too many layers, and a tendency towards perplexing, ineffective but expensive advertising campaigns.

There are also questions about CEO Steve Ballmer’s suitability for the task. He nearly indulged in a disastrously over-priced takeover of Yahoo, saved only by the obstinacy of the target company’s leadership. He habitually dismisses the competition, such as Apple’s iPhone, and is proved wrong by the market. He failed to see the importance of cloud computing, and even now that the company is at least partially converted he does not set the right tone on the subject. I watched his keynote at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) where he sounded as if he were trying unsuccessfully to imitate Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff from ten years’ ago. Microsoft needs to present a nuanced message about its cloud initiative, not someone shouting “oh cloud oh cloud oh cloud”.

Microsoft is also copying its competition as never before. Bing has a few innovations, but is essentially a recognition that Google got it right and an attempt to muscle in with a copy of its business model – search, advertising and data mining. Windows Phone 7 occupies a similar position with respect to Apple’s iPhone and App Store. Windows 8 also seems to borrow ideas from Apple.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is not yet a dying company, and it would be a mistake to base too much analysis of the company on something like comments to Mini-Microsoft’s blog – good though it is – since it is a magnet for disaffected employees.

While Ballmer’s effort at the WPC was poor, he was followed by Bob Muglia, president of server and tools, who was excellent. Windows Azure has come on remarkably since its half-hearted preview at PDC 2008; and Muglia comes over as someone who knows what he is trying to achieve and how he intends to get there. The Azure “Appliance” idea, shipping a pre-baked cloud infrastructure to Enterprise customers, is a clever way to exploit the demand for a cloud application model but on hardware owned by the customer.

The eBay announcement at WPC was also quite a coup. eBay will “incorporate the Windows Azure platform appliance into two of its datacenters” later this year; and while it is not clear exactly how much of eBay will run on Azure, these appliance kits represent significant hardware.

We’ve seen other strong releases from Microsoft – server 2008 R2, Exchange 2010, SQL Server 2008 R2, SharePoint 2010 which whatever you think of SharePoint is a solid advance on its predecessor, and of course Windows 7 which has done a lot to rescue Microsoft’s performance and reputation after the Vista disappointment.

I also continue to be impressed by Visual Studio 2010, which is a huge release and works pretty well in my experience.

What about Windows Phone 7? With the market focused on iPhone vs Android, clearly it is in a tough market. If there is something slightly wrong with it on launch, instability or some serious hardware or software flaw, it might never recover. Nevertheless, I do not write it off. I think the design effort is intelligent and focused, and that the Silverlight/XNA/.NET development platform along with Visual Studio is an attractive one, especially for Microsoft Platform developers. VP Scott Guthrie describes the latest SDK here. People still switch phones frequently – something I dislike from an environmental point of view, but which works in favour of new entrants to the market. If Windows Phone 7 is a decent device, it can succeed; I’d rate its long-term chances ahead of HP WebOS, for example, and will be keen to try it when it becomes available.


Is there a lot wrong with Microsoft? Yes. Does it need a fresh approach at the very top? Probably. Nevertheless, parts of the company still seem to deliver; and even the Windows Phone 7 team could be among them.

Flash and AIR for Windows Phone 7 by mid 2011?

I’m at an Adobe partner conference in Amsterdam – not for the partner sessions, but to be one of the judges for tomorrow’s application showcase. However, I’ve been chatting to Michael Chaize, a Flash Platform evangelist based in Paris, and picked up a few updates on the progress of Flash and AIR on mobile devices. AIR is a runtime which uses the Flash player for applications that are not hosted in the browser.

It’s well known that AIR for Android is ready to preview, though it is not quite public yet. Which platforms will come next? According to Chaize, AIR for Palm webOS is well advanced, though a little disrupted by the coming HP takeover, and Blackberry is also progressing fast. He added that Windows Phone 7 will not be long delayed, which intrigued me since that platform itself is not yet done. Although Microsoft and Adobe have said that Flash will not be in the initial release, Chaize says that it will come “within months” afterwards, where “months” implies less than a year – maybe six months or so.

We also talked about the constraints of a mobile platform and how that affects development. Currently developers will need to use the standard Flex components, but Chaize said that a forthcoming Flash Mobile Framework will be optimized for devices. Of course, the more you tailor your app for mobile, the less code you can share with your desktop version.

The Apple question also came up, as you would expect. Chaize pointed out that Adobe’s enterprise customers may still use the abandoned Flash Packager, which compiles Flash code to a native iPhone app, since internal apps do not need App Store approval. That said, I suspect that even internal developers have to agree the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, with its notorious clause 3.3.1 that forbids use of an “intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool”. Even if that is the case, I doubt that Apple would pursue the developers of private, custom applications.

HP hedges mobile bets by buying Palm and webOS

I love that this industry is full of surprises. This week has brought a couple. One is HP getting seriously into mobile by buying Palm – I think this is good news since webOS, based on JavaScript and the W3C DOM, is an interesting platform that was otherwise near to death. But surely HP is Microsoft’s trusted partner and might be expected to back Windows Phone 7? That’s the other intriguing aspect. HP has suffered as Windows Mobile has stuttered, and with mobile fast becoming the computing client that matters most, Microsoft’s platform does not look like a safe bet.

HP’s problem though is that webOS does not look like a safe bet either. In the context of HP’s overall business, Windows Mobile, now Windows Phone, makes more sense; and it cannot afford not to do the Windows stuff alongside whatever is planned for webOS. As HP told the Reg:

HP intends to continue selling Windows-based devices. "We believe in choice," Bradley said. But it sees a brighter future in offering Windows phones and tablets alongside systems based on webOS, which debuted earlier this year on the Palm Pre. "With Palm, HP acquires a strong operating system to deliver a unique customer experience," Bradley said.

It’s a mixed message, which means it is hard to articulate, and hard to make it work.

Nor it is the first time HP has wavered over Windows for mobile devices. Remember when HP rebadged the iPod, back in 2004? It was a short-lived experiment, to nobody’s surprise. This deal makes more sense than becoming an Apple OEM, but it will still be hard for HP to pull off.

The other surprise, also mobile related? Apple no longer lovers Mac developers.

Android the new Windows?

I’ve just reviewed the LG GW620 Android phone. I was impressed by its features but disappointed by its usability – it’s not that bad, but scrolling web pages accurately with touch I found almost impossible – it’s hard to avoid scrolling too far and missing out a chunk – and why does LG supply the device with four different email clients?

Apple’s iPhone is much more expensive and compares badly on features, but has the usability and polish that the LG phone lacks.

OEM Android versus Apple iPhone – it reminds me of Windows vs Apple on the desktop.

One is for the mass market, cheap, feature-rich, a bit chaotic, always a few annoyances, but you put up with them because you can still get things done, and it’s an open platform which lets you do what you like.

The other is premium-cost, single-vendor, less annoying, and you spend more time getting on with what you want to do and less time fighting the machine.

I don’t intend this as a  complete parallel. There are more than two popular operating systems in the SmartPhone market right now – Symbian, Meego, WebOS, Blackberry; and Microsoft has big hopes for Windows Phone 7. That said, it is hard to see all these platforms thriving long-term.

Palm Ares: an online IDE for WebOS development

I spent a few minutes trying out Ares, Palm’s web-based IDE for WebOS, the OS used in the Palm Pre smartphone.

Ares is in public beta and I’m not going to pretend I found it smooth going. No doubt it will be fine after a little patient learning. It is amazing, with drag-and-drop visual interface builder, code editor, source code management, debugger, and logging.  Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is not supported in any version; you need Mozilla Firefox 3.5 or higher, Apple Safari 4.0 or higher, or Google Chrome 3 or higher.


The online IDE uses a bit of Java but seems to be mostly HTML and Javascript. If you try to launch the application, you need a Palm emulator running locally, but you can preview in a browser without any local dependencies.

In order to try Ares, you have to sign up for Palm Developer Center. As part of the process, it appears that you have to give Palm permission to charge fees to your PayPal account, which I disliked, though membership is free for the time being. Of course you hope that any fees will be more than offset by the steady chink-chink of income from your app sales.

Is this the future? My immediate reaction was to be very impressed; a little further in and I was greatly missing the comfort of Eclipse.

Still, this stuff will get better; and the idea of just browsing to an URL to continue development is compelling.