I have been a tremendous fan of what the engineering team(s) at Palm have been up to since the moment I heard that Palm’s next generation of handsets would run on a new operating system that was based entirely on open web standards. Having been a web developer since 1995 and a mobile web developer since 2000 I knew it would immediately be a game changer when it was released.
I have been tracking the project very closely since day one and have been blessed with the opportunity to be around all major events with visits to CES last year for the unveiling, the Pre Experience in LA, CES 2010, GDC this year, and Palm’s own developer conference just a week before the HP acquisition announcement.
The acquisition was not a big surprise to people, especially after all the hub-bub around the web in the weeks leading into it. While I was rooting for Palm to remain independent to really prove the merit of what they are building, the acquisition by HP enforces that notion while giving Palm the ammo it needs to compete in a market like few others we have seen ever in the tech sector. While Palm could have made some better decisions around the launch and initial ad-campaign, Palm was entering a knife fight only to find Apple and Google armed with laser pulse rifles.
Most people do not realize that Google et-al put ~$100 million into the Droid campaign alone. To put that into perspective, Palm’s ad-spend to date is somewhere just north of $35 million. Of course the humongous ad-spend Apple drops each year, on top of its probably multi-hundred million dollar benefit from its hype machine does not need to be mentioned.., but what the heck.
Out Come the Haters
As soon as the deal was announced, of course the haters and all the experts came out of the woodwork with opinions on why HP + Palm was a waste of money and a big mistake. General rule of thumb here in Silicon Valley is the following (in psuedo code for those developers out there):
fanboi_buzzwords = ['apple','iphone','ipad','jobs','steve-o','google','android','droid']
news_words = ['HP','Palm']
news_words.each |word| do
if !fanboi_buzzwords.include?(word) return ‘That is stoopid and only deserves my criticism’
I got a little fired up reading all the comments on blogs and twitter, and after some days to gather my thoughts, I thought it would be good to educate people on the importance of the work that Palm is doing and why they have been leading the way of future mobile development.
When the webOS was first announced it was quite amazing to talk to other developers around the Valley, especially those at mobile events, and hear their gut reaction to a web based dev framework being such a negative and limiting factor. The reality distortion fields that the folks in Cupertino layed down seemed to completely erase the memory of the web 2.0 movement and everything that Mozilla and Google are pushing for in desktop browsers.
When Palm decided to create a new OS from the ground up they made what I see as a sane, straight-forward choice. Create the new OS based on the same principals driving the rapid advancements we were seeing in the web application space. In the web, open standards and developer tools are king, and Palm followed suit.
It was quite a treat to attend the developer event at Palm HQ and talk to the Palm team members. It’s really a great thing to feel the excitement an engineer exudes when they are working on a project that genuinely gets them excited. Hearing them tell their own development stories showed their humbleness in how it has been an interesting and winding road to cram an entire advanced web stack into such a limited hardware set when compared to the desktop.
Someday we will have more then one web-based mobile operating systems in the market. Apple is getting lots of attention for the ‘snazzy’ iAd’s that are HTML/webkit based, and of course from their anti-flash, pro-HTML5 stance. Nokia is starting to get it with their latest Symbian update. There is also that fantastic chromeOS that Google is working on. If they weren’t in such a rush to kick Android out the door they might have gotten too chromOS a little bit earlier and the mobile web app hype would be 10-fold right now. Good thing the Big-G has the deep pockets it will take to support the almost already legacy Android operating system while they finish polishing their chrome.
So where does webOS go from here?
It appears that HP is serious about not only Palm’s leading mobile IP portfolio, but webOS itself. In my little dreamworld imagine a scenarios where HP takes the $1.2 billion spend and Daddy Warbuks drops another $800 million into Palm’s bank account. For the new $800 million, $450 is split over two years for marketing and biz-dev spend, with the remaining $350 million put into R&D to continue to push the limits of a bleeding edge mobile web platform.
That of course wont happen. HP has temporarily halted their slate/tablet project with they have been floating around since the crappy video they showed at CES this year. That is probably the second best move they have made, after buying Palm of course. My next wishes are that the Palm brand lives on for all phone-oriented devices. Trying to shove everything under the HP moniker is not the way to go. It makes sense to drop webOS on tablets, and possibly a boot option on netbooks similar to what Intel is pushing for Moblin.
Only time will tell, rest assure that I will be pulling hard for the team(s) at Palm. I tip my hat to what I consider to be what might one of the best engineering projects I have experienced in my fifteen years of developing for the web.