Mobile

What WebOS can teach the iPhone, Android and the rest

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HP has been in the news a lot lately touting its vision for a WebOS-filled future.  While it’s debatable if we’re in the “post-PC” era, there is no doubt that we are indeed still at the early stages of mobile application development.

A quick glance at the mobile platform landscape has my company, the interactive agency POP, learning from our first Windows Phone experiences, continuing to sharpen our skills on iOS, chasing down Android and all of its versions and devices, and assessing Blackberry’s Playbook amongst other technologies.  Platform preferences aside, if you don’t like innovation and change, stay away from mobile.

We have been watching HP carefully since they started talking more publicly about WebOS.  We were all fans of Palm back in the day, right?  While consistent commercial success has been hard for them to achieve over the years, as a technologist, you have to tip your hat to the innovative ecosystem that is just now beginning to be holistically unveiled.

I’m not here to predict the success or failure of webOS, but rather to highlight some things the other platforms can learn from it:

Enable application development across all platforms

If you want to build an iOS app, you need a Mac.  If you want to build a Windows Phone app, you need a PC.  If you want to build a Blackberry Playbook app, you can be on either (Windows for other Blackberry devices though).  So, what’s the best way to reach the development masses?  Make the OS irrelevant.  WebOS application development only requires your IDE of choice (or HP’s Ares development environment) and a WebKit-based browser.

Make application development more accessible

Java, Objective-C, Silverlight, XNA, Adobe AIR, ….  WebOS only requires that you know HTML/JS/CSS.  The Enyo JavaScript framework does the heavy lifting for you.  Personally, I like the strategy of widening mobile application development to the most widely used Web development technologies.  You still have the option to dive in deeper and build a truly custom interactive experience.  However, at what cost do those experiences come at and how much does it cost to maintain over the lifespan of an app and over various OS versions and devices?

Hardware acceleration for Web apps

WebOS apps are Web-based technology applications that can take advantage of hardware acceleration.  Other platforms offer native OS, Web (browser), or hybrid (mix of both) application styles.  Hardware acceleration for mobile browsers is definitely starting to become more commonplace but Web experiences within native shells generally are not.  HP avoids these variances in performance altogether by supporting standards like CSS3 accelerated transforms and by also having a hardware accelerated application framework.

Ship with built-in aggregators for cloud-based content

HP is continuing the industry’s efforts of improving mobile access to people’s pictures, music, and documents that are stored in various cloud-based repositories.  This is a good thing because there is still a long ways to go.

Resizeable interfaces

Apps built for iPhones don’t look all that great on iPads.  They are two similar but distinctly different experiences and thus we need to write two versions of apps to create form-factor aware experiences.  WebOS takes a very different approach: Design once and scale the functionality to the form factor.  On a mobile device? No problem. You see a smaller, lighter version of the app.  On a TouchPad?  No sweat. The app resizes, panels expand or collapse as needed, and the experience is instantly richer.  HP’s webOS is like the Swiss Army Knife of platforms – whatever you need, it’s built-in which makes our application development budgets stretch farther.

Devices are social

Welcome back “beaming” (the old Palm Pilot method of sending data over infra-red connections)…well, kinda.  The 2011 version of beaming is “touching,” and webOS lets you “touch” links (for now) from one device to another using their Touchstone technology.  This nifty little feature has potential for just about everyone – in the future, gaming companies could have consumers sharing games with each other and when the trial runs out, you (hopefully) have a rapid purchase path waiting for you.  Retail brands could have customers sharing coupons back and forth.  My mind is racing…social networking, information worker multi-device productivity improvements, and what’s a business card?

Beyond the list above, webOS is sneaking its way onto printers, phones, into data centers, and onto Windows desktops.  Does the webOS App Catalog on Windows equate to a Windows App Store?  Interesting.  What to make of this?  That’s probably a topic for another day so while it remains to be seen if HP’s webOS strategy will be an overwhelming commercial success, an also-ran technology, or an eventual high-profile failure (ok…maybe I’ve oversimplified the options), I do think they are doing some nice things the other development platforms can learn from (checkout how they handle notifications too).  Nice work HP and we’ll see you at the TouchPad’s launch.

Matt Joe is the VP of Technology at POP, an interactive agency. He submitted this story to VentureBeat as part of a series leading up to our Mobile Summit later this month.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a platform, webOS has impressed nearly every reviewer who’s touched it, but it faces a few hurdles. One of those hurdles, the device’s [...]

  2. [...] To wit, check out the jousting between Harry McCracken and John Gruber from Daring Fireball in the article “The Era of Beta Hardware.” On the other hand, to balance the “hammering” Playbook has received for perceived shortcomings, it’s worth mentioning that there are some things WebOS can teach the iPhone and the Android platforms. [...]