Time For Palm To Drop WebOS And Embrace Android

from the the-time-has-come dept

It appears that Wall Street is giving up on Palm after sales of the Pre have been massively disappointing, and Sprint (their only US partner) appears to be focusing more and more on HTC Android-powered phones these days. At the same time, developers are recognizing that if they’re creating mobile apps, they need to decide which platforms to work on, and the markets for the iPhone and Android smartphones look a lot more exciting.

This is, in large part, due to poor planning on the part of Palm and Sprint. First, Palm was way too slow in really opening up its developer program. By the time it finally got around to it, more and more Android phones were hitting the market, with much more of a marketing push. Developers, given the choice, will go for the platform that actually has users. That’s why I still say it was a huge mistake for Palm and Sprint not to have figured out a way to give away the Palm Pre for free. The thing that Pre needed more than anything else was market share. With market share it could attract developers and a loyal following. Without that, Palm is dead and everyone knows it. Having failed at that, and now thrown away its head start over the rush of Android-powered devices hitting the market, Palm is quickly looking like an afterthought, just months after the Pre was released.

I actually stopped by a Sprint store earlier this week, because I was interested in seeing its recent Android-powered phones in person. I played around with them, and then picked up the Palm Pre as well — and I have to admit that the hardware on the Pre is really nice. It’s just a much nicer overall package than the HTC Hero (an Android-powered phone) — more compact, had a more solid feel, and the slide out keyboard is actually quite nice (if a bit small). But, after seeing all the developer support moving towards Android, I have no interest in betting on a dying OS. And that’s when I wondered why Palm didn’t just release an Android-powered Pre as well. I recognize that it’s got a lot invested in webOS, but it’s a sunk cost and a losing strategy.

A few years back, after years supporting its own Palm operating system, the company started offering Treo’s that supported Windows Mobile. It’s time to do that again, but for Android, letting the company actually make use of a much larger, committed developer community, rather than trying to keep the whole thing in-house.

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Companies: google, palm, sprint

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Comments on “Time For Palm To Drop WebOS And Embrace Android”

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Hal (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Silicon-wise, Palm Pre is pretty fast. Its running TI-OMAP580 I believe, which is ARM Cortex-core with GPU goodness. Its slow because of the OS. Palm guys actually copped to it this week, bragged about how they can get CSS transforms through the GPU now, which speeds things up considerably. Why that wasn’t in the initial release, that’s where Palm is dumb about things.

Great fate for Palm would be to get gobbled by Microsoft. Windows Mobile is a vipers-nest of office politics at Microsoft and a moneypit.

So, Stevie Ballmer eliminates current Windows Mobile group (read: can 5000+ peeps, axe the Danger team, EOL WinMo), buys Palm for a song, fires all their managers, keeps the dev team. Re-brand webOS with Microsoft crap like Bing, load up native pocket Office app, and unbeatable ActiveSync/Exchange support for all the corporate tools out there (even a native Outlook client…wheee!). Call it WinMo 7 and the Pre becomes the “Zune Mobile” or whatever their marketing dorks call it. Shake and serve. That’s the best fate I can imagine for webOS/Pre.

Palm will continue to screw it up business-wise. Look at what’s happening now: I can get a Palm Pre for $80 bucks (w/contract) here: https://shop.cellulardeals.com/specialoffer.aspx?cid=34536_97df80b82ba543e19dfac62de3d6cde3

Meanwhile, Palm is getting ready to dump the cheap-o webOS candybar (the Pixi) onto Sprint for $99 for the same contract obligation. So I can get the Lexus for $20 cheaper than the Camry, right now, before the Camry is even released. Can we say “Pixi for free before Xmas?” Palm is so dumb as a business entity.

interval says:

Re: Re:

But if the market for Android is larger than for webOS and getting larger, its a losing battle. As a developer and having looked at the api Palm released a few months ago I have to say that webOS looked rather nice. I’m a little surprised to read that Mike thought it was slow, I’ve read other accounts that it seemed fine on the speed factor. oh well, another decent technology destined for the bit bucket I guess.

vastrightwing (profile) says:

Re: Mobile web apps

I’ve looked at many smartphones, the PRE being one of them and I’m so sad that all of them fall way short of what I’m willing to buy. The iPhone is the most responsive of them all, but not at the cost they want. The Pre was disappointing to me because its browser seemed very slow to respond and the rendering was slow. Regular web sites were almost unresponsive to me. I just can’t see spending a ton of money on a mobile experience that is so horrible as it is. It won’t be buying one until they put a CPU in these mobile devices that can respond as fast as a real PC and can surf nearly as fast as a real PC. Telcos expect to sell smartphones that cost a lot of money and then have monthly fees on top of that, which are more than a normal home connection. Nope, I’m still waiting for the whole experience to get better. It’s a ways off for now.

Johnny says:

Wow, usually you Techdirt has well thought out posts, but this one is just dumb.

Switching to Android will in no way save Palm. Their lack of sales isn’t a problem with the OS, but rather one of distribution and branding. Palm’s brand has been sullied recently and having their devices only available on Sprint is a joke.

WebOS is actually quite an innovative platform with a better thought out user experience. Android really sucks in this area. Android is the new Windows Mobile: open platform with lots of OEMs and lots of sub-part phones. I don’t know what you were thinking.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“WebOS is actually quite an innovative platform with a better thought out user experience.”

Well, I guess you can argue that it’s innovative to a degree (although it seems more evolutionary than revolutionary to me), but as a platform on which to develop and run apps it sortof sucks. It’s making everything the web.

It’s inefficient with the use of clock cycles (i.e., every app takes a performance hit because of it). On the desktop, one could argue, this isn’t sucha big deal anymore but on a handheld, clock cycles are much slower and suck battery power. It also insulates you from the hardware and therefore puts limits on what you can do, which limits what apps you can write, which limits utility.

If I had to choose between the iPhone and the Pre, I’d go with the Pre — but not because I prefer it as a development platform. Fortunately, Nokia’s new offering is looking very enticing and I’m looking in that direction both for development efforts and my personal use.

sondun2001 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When it comes to third party development and sales, it doesn’t matter how good the technology is (Wii?), market share is very important, and that is one of the author’s main points. Developers will tend to invest there time into platforms with the most users. WebOS is good, but I don’t agree with your comment on Android sucking on UI… way off man lol

Steve says:

Re: Innovative?

Innovative? Just curious, what’s so innovative about the WebOS? Sure, it’s nice, if you’re looking for a good iPhone knock off. The one thing that the WebOS gets attributed for being innovative is with the card style interface for multitasking. Of course, anyone who’s used mobile safari on an iPhone would recognize where that metaphor came from.

From a developers perspective, it doesn’t come close to the iPhone. Web based apps are fine for some things but certainly not for more demanding apps like games. The sample rate for the accelerometer is horrible. Where does OpenGL get exposed?

No, I agree with Mike. Palm enjoyed a few months of hype based on a flash demo, but at the end of the day, Palm doesn’t have much of a chance.

On a separate note…

The problem is, jumping on the Android bandwagon isn’t going to save them either. Palm isn’t exactly the best hardware handset maker as is. By going with Android, they’d just be another voice lost in the crowd. Further, why would anyone by from Palm. First, they say buy Palm OS, then they say buy Windows Mobile, then they say buy Web OS, now Palm users are supposed to buy Andorid OS? Really, Palm users would have to be idiots to follow such mixed messages. If I were to buy an Android based device, it wouldn’t be from Palm.

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Have Cake, Eat It Too

While I disagree with much of what Johnny wrote above, I do agree that WebOS may not be the limiting factor for Palm Pre sales.

That being said, Palm does not have to abandon WebOS apps to run atop another OS. WebOS apps are HTML/CSS/Javascript, running in a WebKit container, with a rich Javascript library for creating full apps, with access to lower-level hardware, and whatnot.

There is little, other than elbow grease, that would prevent a WebOS-compatible container being written for Android. It might not even require firmware changes. I sorta expected somebody to have already written a WebOS-alike framework for Android or iPhone or something else with WebKit baked in. There might need to be firmware changes to address a small percentage of WebOS features that lack Android analogues, but most core stuff should work OK AFAICT.

The Pre has a faster CPU than many of the early crop of Android devices, but the next wave, starting with the Motorola DROID, should have plenty of horsepower to run a WebKit-based app fluidly. The DROID, for example, has the same CPU as the Pre, IIRC.

So, if Palm did decide to go with Android, they would “merely” have to write a WebOS container for Android, then they could carry over all their existing WebOS apps, yet still have access to Android apps.

Conversely, should Palm kick the bucket or head seriously in that direction, the WebOS community could work to create such a container so they could continue their app development. As PhoneGap and Appcelerator Titanium Mobile have demonstrated, it is very possible to create cross-platform mobile apps using WebKit, so a WebOS container could be written that ran on multiple mobile platforms.

limaxray says:

Re: Droid may have a little bit of a limp after all

I read that article and the author must have been confused. The additional charge is if your phone is on a business account. Pretty much all the carriers do the same thing as business accounts receive extra service and support. It has nothing to do with Exchange and a regular personal account can get their Exchange mail without paying any extra fee.

Opinion says:


The funny thing is, webOS is still better than Android. I went with a Pre because Android’s interface seemed the worst (maybe a tie with WM) of the 5 or 6 big mobile operating systems. WebOS still kills Android on functionality. I’ll be happy to take whatever mobile OS leads the pack when my contract is up, but everyone should be biting off Palm for the time being.

Sure, the apps are lacking, but that’s not a vital function in my opinion. On the multitasking, contacts, messaging, browser, etc. webOS is still the better technology…..at least for the time being.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe Mike wants more ring-tone options..?

If so, iPhone is a good choice. You can make any iTunes song into a ringtone.

iPhone on T-Mobile is the way to go, man.
Their new unlimited plan isn’t too shabby, and T-Mobile has never used SimToolKit. SimToolKit is used by the carrier to bastardize phone features based on IMEI.

On T-Mobile, you can use any unlocked phone with full service and features. You can get a plan, and it just works after you configure the phone.

SimToolKit needs to go away. It’s the reason why MMS hasn’t worked on AT&T. It’s the reason why you have to get an “iPhone specific Dataplan” it’s the reason why tethering is disallowed. So, maybe look at T-Mobile. They don’t bastardize phones. That’s why they work.

Cvnk (profile) says:


I’ve always heard complaints that Android was slow. At least prior to 2.0. In fact I think you can find speed complaints about any mobile OS.

I’ve never been disappointed by the Pre’s speed but maybe I just have lower expectations from a device that can fit in my pocket. I guess I’m just amazed at the things it can do to care all that much about a few minor delays in calling up the web or Google Maps.

And if the rumors are true the Pre should get a huge speed boost soon when they move much of the GUI stuff to the GPU (which is currently completely unused). Granted you could argue that the damage has been done and that Palm should have focused on this long ago but I still say it’s too early to announce the demise of WebOS.

Nicholas Overstreet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Strange

Of course they are, they are HTC’s. HTC has done this in every single device it has ever made. They have a reputation for using last-gen under-powered chipsets and MINIMAL amounts of storage and ram to operate what ever goliath mobile OS they are trying to cram on their devices.
It’s time for someone to step up and slap HTC in the face and say “THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE”

NickA (profile) says:

I agree/disagree

I do agree that webOS sucks giant donkey balls.

I do not agree that moving to android is the answer. If everyone moves to android, it will kill the market. If you want some great software, people should be looking into Maemo. I know it is new (for phones at least), but it is making incredible strides, and it is FULLY open source (and backed by nokia, who are really pushing it forward).

Nathan (profile) says:

seems too soon to call

I think its a bit too soon to discount Palm. The successof an OS is dependant on more factors than the size of the developer community. Though they really do need to get devices out for other carriers. I also want them to do well so there’s a little more competition in the market.

I say this as a person who’s been using a G1 for the last year, but I might switch if a Web OS phone were to come to T-Mobile. It’s not that anything is wrong with Android, but I actually think I might like something where the manufacturer has a bit more control over hardware/software integration. Apple goes to far, and Android always faces the threat of forks due to disparate hardware specs.

gren (profile) says:

Compared to the iPhone interface I really like WebOS. Notifications and better menus are the main reason for this. I really like being able to see that someone has texted/IMed/e-mailed me without having to interact with it. I like being able to open multiple programs at once if I need to. I don’t like the lag… and that lag is not only when multiple programs are open it’s just how the phone is–no idea if it’s poorly coded WebOS or the hardware.

I think the best point of the post is that if Palm and WebOS don’t have a big enough audience then no one will make applications for the OS. It doesn’t matter of it’s good or not. All of the ‘smartphones’ have too many drawbacks for me as it is but the final OS I get hopefully will have nice notifications like WebOS and good integration of online contacts rather than the iPhones rather clumsy style.

leo820 says:

Re: sync

As a die hard Pre fan and owner withe such bias towards the phone, I usually don’t comment unless there is a huge misunderstanding. I didn’t have a google account until I bought my Pre. After registering w/ google, I found that I was able to sync my calendar/contacts from aol and yahoo to my google account, ultimately loadeing my pre with every name, POC and event that I created elsewhere. To say the least, you can easily sync your yahoo account data to the pre

techdirtview says:

Are you a developer?

Palm is doing the right thing by dropping WinMobile and applying much of their focus and attention solely towards webOS.

Both webOS and Android run on the Linux operating system which means native applications that run on the Android are likely to cloned and compatible to run perfectly fine for webOS.

Also, webOS uses the same web browser webkit the iPhone uses. This makes many of the 40,000 web-based apps on the iPhone likely to be cloned and are compatible to run perfectly fine for webOS.

I’ll admit that the Palm Pre still has the best multitasking operating system compared to the Android which still doesn’t support multi-touch like the Palm Pre and and iPhone.

The Palm Pre has been very succesful in the UK where demand for the Palm Pre is about twice as much compared to the iPhone. When Verizon also begins to start selling the Palm Pre, more consumers for the Palm Pre will further expand. So there will certainly still be huge revenue opportunities for Palm Pre developers.

As most developers realize, developing for the Android may become a mess when more units having different hardware from other companies are released. If you’ve ever been in such a position where you had to manage and maintain the appropriate codes for specific hardware devices, you should know how complicated and frustrating that can be.

Conclusively, dropping webOS and embracing Android would be just dumb.

DaveR says:

WebOS is still my favorite.

I switched from the iPhone to the Pre this year. As far as hardware, interface and speed goes, I have no problems whatsoever with the Pre. At the moment, Palm WebOS is certainly my favorite – having tried all the others. That said, I might go with Android for development in the future, but most likely keep the Palm Pre as my own personal phone until something I like better comes along

AG (profile) says:

Bad Bad Idea

Now’s the time for Palm to push WebOS as strongly as possible. Just getting a hammering on the stock market is meaningless, they were getting hammered before WebOS was released too. I love the Pre, Palm has added significant performance improvements with every OS update and a new one is expected with the release of the Pixi.

– We’re up to 320 apps in the store. There’s hundreds more homebrew apps. (http://www.precentral.net/how-to-install-homebrew-apps)
– There is already a dedicated developer and hacker community that is releasing patches to add useful features. (http://www.webos-internals.org/wiki/Main_Page) They even came up with an on-screen keyboard!
– Palm hired a key engineer from AMD/ATI recently. (http://www.precentral.net/palm-grabs-amds-linux-graphics-engineer-puts-him-work-webos) Thankfully, they seem to be serious about pushing the performance envelope.
– Palm’s share of the mobile browser market is already at 5% and growing every month (http://www.precentral.net/admob-report-shows-palm-web-use-more-20)

Give up on the WebOS? No. Diverting the company’s attention away from what is their most promising platform in a decade is not the way to go. Wall Street be damned (for a while, anyway).

I expect better from you Mike, than making a broad judgement based on a superficial look at WebOS. Not up to the standard of research of this blog 🙂

Hal (profile) says:

Palm would screw up a fusion reactor

I don’t know about ditching the webOS, but I remember wondering how Palm would screw it up back in Palm-fever days of late May. Recall how that company crapped out another Treo for some reason in March after announcing Pre at CES? You’d think they wouldn’t Balkanize their resources while working the Pre, but that was just the first sign of their ineptitude.

The webOS is cool, but going all interwebs left the device without a whole lot of access to the TI OMAP goodness. Look at the top apps in the Apple App store, they all pretty much need hardware acceleration. Of course, running hardware-intensive apps while multi-tasking probably murders the battery. Plus, there’s something to be said for the iPhone single-threaded approach. For all the hobbling, you know as a developer the vast bulk of the device’s resources will be running your app whenever its in memory. Palm? Who knows…ditto with Android. Do Ctrl+Alt+Delete and check the TSR shit-stack on a Dell or HP and that’s a good argument against multi-tasking abuse.

Think as Android (or webOS) evolves Verizon isn’t going to start loading it up with V-Corporate Tool shit on their Droid builds and bogging the thing down out-of-the-box with crap? Just wait. Palm has the same problem, with a shit developer environment and no API support for really neat stuff in your apps. webOS = Cool , Palm management and strategic decisions = Stupid.

Mr Big Content says:

Socialist Liberal OS

Both WebOS and Android are socialist OSes built on the foreign liberal-developed Linux kernel. What Palm should do is reverse its unpatriotic decision to drop the all-American Windows Mobile OS.

Remember, only Windows Mobile gives you the same OS that powers all the other wonderful Windows Mobile devices out there that you can hang out with. Windows Mobile—ask for it by name!

jake says:

As a developer, Android looks a lot better since it has great growth potential (many big phone manufacturers, starting to launch on major carriers, Verizon being the big one). The app count is a testament to this, given the initial phones didn’t even launch on a big carrier (at least in the US). Also Android Market has no evaluation process, so time to market can be a lot faster than other platforms (ahem iPhone). The Pre does have an evaluation process.

As for the development software, both are similar in ease of use. Both Android and the WebOS SDK supports Windows/OSX/Linux and also Eclipse. Android however has better connection to the hardware and you can write more powerful apps as a result. It is based on Java for the language, which is fairly well known, though some people don’t like it. For WebOS, it is a web based language, which is pretty easy to learn, but is less powerful.

As a consumer device, I think in terms of hardware and software polish, it is right up there with the iPhone, by most accounts. The processor is the same architecture as the 3GS and the Droid and by most accounts WebOS is smooth. Android itself is a bit less polished, but it has good growth potential. If you are a bit of a geek, Android is interesting since it is open source and there has been a good deal of custom ROMs, which makes things interesting. Also you can make your own programs given you can load one on your phone via USB or the web browser without going through Android Market.

Fernando dos Santos says:

Everything is DEAD

Just another rant on how one phone/platform/concept is dead because Android is IT. Rubbish. . . Let’s de-value the Pre by giving it away for free to gain market share, the author writes. Why is the Droid/G1/HTC Hero etc not free, than? Because Verizon, T-Mobile etc do not want to under value their product from the gate. Once you go free, it very hard to convince consumers that the product has any value when priced above that price point.

All this article states is Android OS is best, everyone else give it up. But no value comparison is offered to support the author’s case. Rubbish.

just some dude says:

Perhaps they did not foresee android taking off the way it has, at this point they should definitely consider dropping there OS and moving over to Android. From what we have seen from others one can customize Android to fit there needs look/feel. It would be a smart move on there part its a proven OS and its well received. There OS has not been as popular, so yes PALM get in there quick before its to late for you guys.

Scotty (profile) says:

Who cares about the OS?

People don’t choose a phone BECAUSE of the underlying OS. People choose a phone for what it can DO, and the carrier. I think the average person goes to the store, and plays with the phone. If they like it, they get it. If, 2 yrs later, a BETTER phone comes out, then they get a different one. There’s no loyalty in apps, because you pay $1 for the apps (except Blackberry apps, which cost more).

Developers may care about potential markets, but people don’t care much.

So this is a true meritocracy. The iPhone won’t “lose out” to Android because Android will be on more variety of phones. The iPhone would lose if people see a better phone from someone else. Plain and simple!

If the Pre was on Verizon, it might have a better chance.

just some dude says:

Re: Who cares about the OS?

I think people are a little more savvy today than say 5 years ago they know that today’s phones are more like PC’s, heck the android is basically Linux. You cant say that about other closed system phones and none popular phones. Anyway my point is that yes the iphone and others will loss out to the android its simple people what they like and flock to it. its just a matter of time. when you think about it in just two years from now the industry will have settled on a standard look and feel for our mobile phones “which will pretty much look the same from carrier to carrier” all that will be different is the OS. People will simply go to the OS that does it all, that’s Android.

gwlaw99 (user link) says:

How to save Palm with currently available technology

Here is my plan to save Palm with the Pre 2 and currently available technology.

1. Android 2.0
2. Visually equivalent Web OS-like interface with cards etc. The same way HTC puts its own interface on Android phones
3. 4.3 inch multitouch screen with almost no bezel like HTC HD2
4. Snapdragon CPU
5. Version with and without industry best horizontal keyboard.
6. Make sure to sell it on as many carriers as possible– especially Verizon.
7. One incredible preloaded game unavailable on Android Marketplace.

That would personally be my ultimate phone with current technology.

Rodney Donovan says:

What happened to PALM OS?

What the heck has Palm done! My Palm PDA finally hit the dirt. I can’t find another anywhere! Making the PRE a PDA truly sucks! I need to use spread sheets, documents edits, and and easy to use handwriting recognition software. How do I use that on my PRE? Palm has no direction. Sack that damned CEO! They could have used linux as an OS. No, too easy plus there are thousands of aPPS already on the books. OK WEBOS. Not one damned decent application for it. Well, Where is my PRE is kinda neat. But thats it….What now Palm?

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