webOS, the OS built from the web

There's been a ton of talk lately about several mobile operating systems and their problems, such as language restrictions, fragmentation, and anti-competitive practices. It's never a good idea to talk bad about your competition, so I'll take this opportunity to simply say a few things about the webOS (the OS that powers Palm's Pre and Pixi phones) that you might not know.

As always, I am writing this as Josh the blogger. These are my opinions alone and do not reflect the opinions of Palm Inc.

  • webOS devices are part of the web, not tethered to a desktop computer. You install apps through the web. You your data is backed up to the web. OS updates come through the web. Your address book is a merged view of your contacts living in the web. You never have to sync to a desktop computer. I know some Pixi users who have never once plugged their phones into a computer, because their phone is already a part of the web.
  • The webOS treats it's users like grown ups: they can install any apps they want. What if the app duplicates a built in app? Fine. What if the app isn't in the on device catalog? Fine: you can install apps from the web or beta feeds without any restrictions and do the marketing on your own. What if the app hasn't been reviewed, came from my cool programmer friend, and might hose my device? Well, if you enter the developer code into your phone then you've accepted the risk and can install any app you want. There's a whole community of people making cool but unauthorized apps. They are called the Homebrew community, and Palm encourages them. You're an adult. You can make the decision of what to install on your phone.
  • The webOS lets you use any language you want to develop apps. While Palm doesn't provide tools for languages other than JavaScript, C, & C++, there are no restrictions against using any other language. Our new PDK gives you a clean POSIX layer with direct & standard access to input (SDL), the screen (OpenGL), and device services (API bridge). There's nothing stopping you from porting a C# compiler or a Lua interpreter. Developers are free to use whatever tools they wish. The results are what matter. Good apps are good apps.
  • The webOS doesn't have fragmentation. All webOS devices run the same OS, regardless of form factor. They are all updated over the air, for free, in all countries and carriers. This means that 99% of webOS devices have the current version of the OS within a few weeks. There is no fragmentation of the operating system across devices or form factors. This lets developers focus on making great apps, not waste time supporting 18 versions of the OS.
  • The webOS is built from the DNA of the web. Yes this includes using HTML, JavaScript and CSS as the primary application development layer, but it's more than that. I can just start typing to have my question answered by wikipedia. The address book contains your contacts that live on the web. If my wife changes her Facebook profile photo, my phone is automatically updated. I can write an app that links to other apps through Javascript calls. The web is about connections to the people and services you care about, not just HTML pages. So is the webOS.

At Palm we care greatly about the end customer experience. We are also developers, so we care greatly about the developer experience. And most importantly, we don't see the two at odds. Happy developers create great apps that create happy customers. It's a win, win. That's why we are doing everything we can to make happy developers. We don't always do everything perfectly, but when something is broken we do our best to fix it and be transparent. It's how the web works and it's how the webOS works.

So, as a developer, I hope you'll think about the benefits and freedoms of the webOS, and consider it for your next mobile application.


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Posted April 15th, 2010

Tagged: palm rant