Open Letter to HP Heading

Dear HP,

Don’t let us down. Please. We’re rooting for you, but also we need you. So don’t let us down. You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about smartphones not InkJets, tablets nor desktops – I’m talking about mobile and how the future of webOS lies in your ability to get good hardware out quickly.  But allow me to explain, nonetheless.

A few years ago a suddenly rejuvenated Palm shocked the tech world with a breakout press conference at CES 2009. Jon Rubinstein, webOS, and the (original) Pre were the talk of the town and the funny corner of the world we like to call the tech blogosphere. We all know what happened from there: Creepy ads, strange PR behavior towards the media, hardware build quality issues and a carrier exclusivity deal that just about drove the final nail into the reborn Palm’s coffin.

Then you guys swooped in and saved the day. Well, sorta: You emerged from a pack of possible suitors and bought Palm out more or less at the 11th hour. No matter the circumstances, we were all glad to hear the news. Just as they captured my geek’s heart with the Palm Vii and its giant flip-up antenna back in 2000, so had Palm done it again with webOS, a mobile platform that took the best parts of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android and mashed them together with a healthy dose of visual style baked into the core. And I was far from alone. Despite some significant problems arising from a lack of deep pockets (and those creepy ads), Pre drew tons of critical praise and spawned a solid following of core enthusiasts. Then came Pixi, which I recommended to more than one Sprint user looking for “something because I can’t get iPhone” or “an Email phone but I really don’t want a BlackBerry.” To this day, everyone I suggested a Pixi to loves their phone.

It’s true – not everybody needs dual-cores or a screen with as many pixels as their flat screen TV. Some people just want a device that’s practical, fun to use and has a decent keyboard. (Yes, we both know about the hardware issues with some of the Pres and some of the Pixis … But let’s focus on the good times for now, okay?)

Point is, when Palm was on the verge of dying, the tech community joined our virtual hands together in hopes that someone – anyone with sizable resources behind their brand name, really – would step up and give webOS the second shot it so richly deserved. See, we’re all Apple fanboys and Android fanboys and BlackBerry fanboys, as our readers/viewers are all too happy to point out on the regular, but we also love competition and innovation. It’s what keeps us going, covering this business. Even the best launch parties overflowing with free food and schwag get old after awhile, trust me; it’s that rare, truly cool, innovative new product that rekindles our blogging fires from deep within.

Pre was that product and webOS was that thing. So when you, HP, saved webOS from the proverbial long, dark night without a cell signal and launched the new HP webOS in San Francisco this past February, there was a feeling in the air. A feeling of hope, a buzz of energy, a thought, frankly, that the new old kid was back to take a second shot at saving us from a world ruled by a two-headed horse named iAndroid. iPhones and Android phones are great devices and all, but webOS was as much a different take on what “mobile phone software” could be as any of us had really seen since the original iPhone. webOS, frankly, had the potential to be all the things I liked about Apple and Google’s ways of doing phones with most of the icky stuff removed, and mashed together with rounded corners and nicer typography.

And so that morning on the Bay was exciting. You brought webOS back. You gave it corporate muscle and deep pockets and huge distribution channels. You showed us the next flagship phone, Pre 3. You showed us Veer, a funny little thing that might have a niche market or not, but at least shown you’d been hard at work even through the dark days. And then you showed us TouchPad which, quite frankly, half the room thought just might be to iPad what Pre at one time could have been to iPhone: A true competitor.

And then you promised something that really stood us all to attention: You promised you’d get these devices – and future webOS devices – out to market quickly. You talked about shorter delays between launch date and ship date. You talked about making right with HP the things that Palm couldn’t quite do on their own.

Now it’s August. Six months to the date, exactly, since that morning in San Francisco. Veer has been out on AT&T for a few months. TouchPad launched more recently, and was immediately plagued by reports of software bugs and lukewarm reviews. And Pre 3? Still nowhere to be seen.

Back in February I wrote with guarded optimism about the rebirth of webOS under HP’s corporate watch.  I was particularly high on the prospect of webOS 3 running on a tablet; TouchPad more than its siblings lit a fire in my nerdy belly. But “launched” isn’t the same as “shipping,” and so I concluded my report with this:

There’s no doubt that HP’s better positioned to take “third with a bullet!” in the mobile space than Nokia, Microsoft, or even RIM, given their broad portfolio of upsell-able – I mean, “connected” – devices.

To be fair, ask me again this Summer when all three of today’s previewed devices – along with whatever Apple, Google, RIM, and Microsoft have in store for us before then – finally ship.

Back in February you said Veer and Pre 3 would ship before Summer, and TouchPad would follow soon after, sometime before Labor Day had come and gone. To be fair it’s just early August and the tablet has already received its first software update. But where’s Pre 3? Where’s the true halo device, the flagship smartphone? As popular as iPad has made the genre, tablets will still run a distant second to smartphones when it comes to webOS getting back into the game.

Back in February I joked about HP taking “third with a bullet!” while I secretly hoped that somehow a rejuvinated webOS embraced by bulging corporate arms could grow into a truly disruptive player in what was quickly becoming a two-company horserace. Six months later, Veer’s done nothing, TouchPad is on Woot! for 25% off retail, and Pre 3 is little more than a recurring promise your poor PR people have no choice but to continually make and remake to the media.

Don’t let us down, HP. Smartphones are a huge and still growing part of today’s world, and the world needs more than two choices when it comes to whose corporate machinery will power their phones. RIM is in trouble. Nokia is in trouble. Neither is giving up, though. Six months ago I thought you had a clear edge on them both, given the marriage of Palm’s kick-ass software to HP’s hardware production and distribution prowess. I’m not sure what’s happened since then, and I know it’s not easy making cell phones, but my plea remains the same: Don’t let us down HP. You made a promise and you need to keep it. But more importantly than that, we need you.

So get Pre 3’s software right, get it done now, and get it out to market before Summer’s over. And follow it up with something cool, something unexpected, preferably before Christmas time – CES 2012 at the latest. TouchPad’s already showing up in the bargain bin, and whether that’s a calculated move to gain marketshare or just the reality of any other tablet in a world ruled by iPads, it’s not good. Take your own advice and don’t wait so long between launching and shipping next time, HP; the mobile world moves too fast for that. Really, just follow through on what you said at that first webOS presser at CES ’09 and your own HP webOS event this February. Follow through on your own words, and you just might make turn “third with a bullet!” into “major player” yet.

Consumers need you, Pre enthusiasts need you, and weird as it may sound, even the Android/BlackBerrty/iPhone Fanboys need you, HP. Don’t let us down.