Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 and Brian X Chen has a great tick-tock detailing the initial fall – and continuing fall – of webOS. The interviews are quite telling, including a quote from Paul Mercer:
The most important line there is “the technology wasn’t there yet.” Considering a number of other OSes, including, most notably, WinPho 7, are able to do what webOS was supposed to do including social network contact control, status updates, and web-technologies-based UIs, I find this as a bit of a cop out.
The Pre came out in 2009 to much fanfare and was in a face-off against iOS and Android for most of its life cycle. The primary problems outlined in the article – lack of developer support, a speedy, nine-month build time, and general failures to secure key talent – sound like good excuses in retrospect but I think the lesson learned here is that Palm tried to play by start-up rules in an established game. Nine month programming jags to produce shipping code is fine when you’re doing a social network for goat lovers. It’s not so fine when you’re selling phones to a mass market.
I don’t miss webOS. Palm overshot and failed to convince a jaded public that it was worth switching. Palm died because the core audience – the “anything but iPhone crowd” – never received a clear, compelling reason to switch. Then HP bought it and, well, we all know what happened there.
In the end, Palm couldn’t build momentum or a product that worked. There are, oddly enough, still Pre fanboys out there who point to a great webOS open source renaissance but that’s about as likely as the average user caring enough about their Android phone to install Cyanogenmod: there is some impetus there, to be sure, but most people just want to check email, make calls, and buy a phone that will work for, at minimum, two years until the next big thing comes along.