Interesting things have been happening in the smartphone technosphere this year. Android, once the young upstart, is now a juggernaut with an army of devices stomping all over the mobile scene. Although Apple‘s iPhone is still the one to beat, the company seems more interested in suing everyone than refreshing its stale, gridded UI. Meanwhile, BlackBerry (RIM) is putting all its eggs in the BBX basket, hoping for the mother of all “Hail Mary” plays with its planned 2012 products. Windows Phone has a new champion in Nokia, which could have spent the remainder of the year licking its wounds from the Symbian and Meego battles, but has decided instead to take up the WinPho cause by putting out some very interesting head-turners in the Lumia line of phones.
Then there’s WebOS. WebOS has been the subject of my musings lately, with HP having just announced its fate. Sure, the OS wasn’t perfect. Some users bemoaned performance lags and a limited selection of apps in the Catalog, but it was generally liked by critics and reviewers. And yet, this operating system — with all of its potential — got kicked to the curb this year. It was disheartening, to say the least, sort of like seeing a puppy being mistreated.
When HP bought Palm, it could have been a “white knight” moment, with the hero riding in on a horse to save the platform. Instead, the TouchPad got tossed into the clearance bin and WebOS was just given away to the open-source community.
Truth is, open sourcing WebOS was probably the best scenario for the platform — certainly favorable to remaining neglected. And it could wind up being the very thing that gives WebOS new life. Much depends on the license it gets released under, of course, but let’s presume for a second that (1) pretty much anything not strictly proprietary is up for grabs, and (2) HP keeps its word and ushers the platform into this new stage with a little more care than it has shown before (though I’m not really holding my breath on that one).
The timing is interesting. These days, Android seems to be pulling in the reins a bit on the free-for-all tack that led to its fragmentation woes. (Microsoft slapping licensing fees on more than half the Android devices out there certainly doesn’t help.) So it’s a little less open and definitely less “free” at this point in time, now when devs are getting this new/old toy to play around with. That could lead to interesting projects that send WebOS into a new level. And in terms of product offerings, the major phone makers could be tempted by a cost-effective alternative that already has a base following to build on.
Oddly enough, I was thinking about this when I was at the T-Mobile/Nokia press party for the Lumia 710. Since hardware quality was one of the big criticisms of WebOS, I wondered what would happen if a company renowned for great hardware committed itself to it. A Nokia-made WebOS phone? I think the results could be astounding. Not that I’m knocking Windows Phone — in fact, it’s looking increasingly good to me lately, especially that Lumia 800. But that only reminds me that the ink on Nokia’s WinPho partnership is still wet. However, the Finnish company does seem to enjoy dabbling in different operating systems…
When I finish indulging in this fantasy, and get back to the real world, I admit the more likely scenario is probably that developers will simply pick over this carcass, taking the best parts of WebOS and integrating the code into other software. Google, for instance, has already shown that it isn’t afraid of taking some cues from the former Palm platform. (The Ice Cream Sandwich update brings some familiar touches like multitasking cards and swiping notifications, thanks to former WebOS designer–turned–Android UX honcho Matias Duarte.) Could it take on more influences from Duarte’s wheelhouse? And what would WinPho or BBX be like with flick-to-close cards, integrated messaging and revamped notifications? For its part, BlackBerry could definitely use some juice these days, especially with BlackBerry 10’s reported delay.
The possibilities are endless, and that is the nature of open source: Really anyone can grab this and make of it what they will. What we have yet to learn is if anyone has the guts to go the distance with it.
What’s your take on this? Are you hoping to see WebOS rise up, standing on the shoulders of the open-source community (or another company), and regain its glory? Or do you think it’s just over at this point, with perhaps some touches surviving as part of another platform? Tell us what you foresee as the future of this operating system in the comments below.
[image via ArsTechnica]