Let's be honest. Right now there are two players in the mobile space, Apple and Google. That's not taking anything away from the power or potential of BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Symbian, MeeGo, or any other platform, but realistically there are two names that dominate the mobile news and two operating systems that dominate consumers' mindshare today. With all due respect to the long and storied histories of BlackBerry and Symbian, the truth is that Apple's iOS and Google's Android are the big dorks on campus right about now.
Add to that mess HP's (no longer Palm's) webOS, at least for the next few weeks. The bad news is the star of today's show, the HP TouchPad tablet computer running webOS 3.0, won't ship until Summer. The good news is TouchPad looked better in demos than iPad or any Android tablet in person, and HP's new smartphones – Veer and Pre 3 – will hit the streets sooner than Summer. So that's something.
As far as the smartphones go, Pre 3 is an evolutionary device (to steal Jon's phrase) and is what it should be, with better build quality, a larger/higher-res display, and more horsepower and storage space under the hood. Pre 3 feels like a solid smartphone, though I really wonder if that ship hasn't sailed for HPalm.
Veer is more intriguing to me, which means it probably won't sell well. HP made a point of pointing out how they're bucking the trend of giant phones in offering up a pint-size powerhouse in Veer. Despite a mere 2.6″ of screenspace, Veer features a full QWERTY thumboard in a Pre-like form factor, and plenty of processing power to handle multitasking. Seriously, this thing whizzed through everything I threw at it in my hands-on time at today's event.
Also, despite the fact that my first thought upon seeing Veer in Jon Rubenstein's hands was "#FAIL," when I got one in my hands I kinda liked it. The QWERTY board is much more usable than I anticipated, and I'll admit I've got a thing for tiny smartphones that offer full connectivity on a screen small enough to deter me from spending too much time staring at it. Plus, it's way better made than anything non-HP Palm ever put out.
But, again, TouchPad was the star of the show today. Seeing webOS on a tablet made me think, "webOS was MADE for a tablet, darnit!" The operating system's graceful handling of everything from fonts to notifications to multitasking made me want to use this device to browse recipes, video chat with my parents, and subtly but pointedly ignore all incoming emails. Granted, that's what HP wanted me to think during their demos, but gall dang, they pulled it off.
In all seriousness, webOS 3.0 on TouchPad appears to have melded Apple's fondness for usability with Google's penchant for sheer functionality – which is more or less what I said about webOS 1.0 when it first arrived on Sprint's Pre awhile back. Will enough people buy enough TouchPads to make webOS a profitable part of HP's massive portfolio? HP's certainly betting they will, and I hope so, given what I saw of the platform's capabilities today. And 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. Maybe by then RIM will have come out with a connected printer or, dare I say it, Nokia with a modern touchscreen-based smartphone.
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