Over the past few years, Palm has been great at creating hype to surround their events. They have been very successful in getting everyone in a tizzy before product announcements. Prior to this past CES, where they sat on the sidelines, Palm has done a fantastic job in creating buzz around their events. In many ways, I’ve considered Palm events to be Apple-like, save for the black turtleneck. When Palm announced the Pre in 2009, the run-up to the release was exciting and Palm delivered. Flash forward to 2011 and the hype machine is well underway. Now under HP, Palm is once again in a familiar place, on the big stage they’ve created. They skipped CES and now the lights will shine even brighter on the stage on February 9th. The invite says, “Think Big, Think Small, Think Beyond”. The past few weeks have brought no shortage of leaks surrounding Topaz, one of multiple webOS tablets expected to make their public debut on February 9th. Not much has been said or leaked regarding the most important piece of any mobile platform and that’s a long overdue update to webOS phones. Dan Ramirez at webOSRoundup put it best when he said, “smartphones are the epicenter of mobile computing”. The time for HP|Palm to deliver a hero phone is now and it’s vital to the success of any tablet or product that will be part of the larger webOS ecosystem said to be in the works.
When HP bought Palm, the plan was to run webOS on an assortment of devices, certainly a plausible idea. With the success of the iPad, tablets are all the rage. To date, there haven’t been any competitors to the iPad. The Galaxy Tab from Samsung opened to mixed reviews and even Google acknowledged the current Android OS wasn’t suited for tablets. That changed this week when Google announced the release of the Android 3.0 SDK, Google’s OS that allows developers to create apps for tablets. Google has over 200,000 apps in their Android Market and no shortage of third party developers. Motorola and Samsung will have tablets in the market by the end of Q1. HTC will likely join them, although the company hasn’t announced their tablet plans as of yet. Developers will likely get on board given their familiarity with development on the Android platform and the expected sales based on the sheer number of tablets available in the marketplace by year’s end. Google also has the ability to ship tablets with an array of Google apps, designed for Honeycomb (Android 3.0). While it’s not a given that developers will flock to Android 3.0 without seeing significant sales numbers of the Tab and Motorola XOOM, the tablet buzz at CES alone will likely get developers interested. iOS isn’t slowing down and neither is the iPad app count available in the AppStore.
Herein lies the trouble for HP Palm. They don’t have that large developer pool found on iOS and Android. Regardless of the elegance of webOS, developers haven’t flocked to the platform. This creates a horse before the cart scenario for Palm. I fully expect Palm to deliver an elegant looking tablet specific version of webOS. All the greatness of webOS built intuitively for a line of tablets. They’ll also announce the immediate availability of the webOS SDK that allows for apps to be created for the newly announced webOS tablets. The developer event happening February 9th will likely get existing developers pumped for webOS tablet development. This is all good stuff, but it’s not enough. A good portion of current developers will bring tablet versions of their apps to the App Catalog, while some will take a wait and see approach. Rumor has it that Palm will kick off another million dollar competition and that will certainly get some attention from developers. Still not enough. Developers want to see volume sales and volume sales will be harder to come by with a $400-$700 tablet (pricing yet to be determined). Volume sales are accomplished by handset sales. Something not achieved by either the Palm Pre or Palm Pixi line. The time to change that is now.
Building a Palm Superphone
At CES 2011, there was a common theme among phones coming out this year. Most included faster processors, large vivid displays in a black slab format. This is what people want. This is what sells. I’m just one person, but I’d say my opinion is likely in line with other webOS enthusiasts desperately waiting for HP|Palm to build a true superphone. Here’s my abbreviated checklist of wants:
- Large, vivid display
- Thin, black slab that doesn’t compromise size with battery life
- On-screen keyboard
- Super fast processor
- Build quality. Build quality. Build quality.
Sure, I could get into specifics, but I’m more concerned about the webOS experience this new phone will bring to the table. I don’t want a phone that needs to be overclocked in order to be on par with usability of other platforms. For all its beauty, I’ve also been disappointed with in-app experience. I still hold out hope that webOS 2.1 will improve things on my Palm Pre Plus. If the OS cannot improve it’s speed, then throw in dual-core processors. I don’t necessarily believe that Palm needs to compete in the Android space where specs help to drive sales. As I’ll touch on later, hardware cannot be ignored and can impact sales. Ultimately, Palm is about experience and that needs to improve. As an end user, I’m less concerned about the engine and more about performance.
From time to time, you hear about people leaving the webOS platform, largely due to the lack of new hardware. I see many of these same people, either on Twitter or our forums, missing webOS. For those who have drifted, a Palm hero phone would likely bring them back into the fold. Hardware clearly plays a role in selling phones. That applies to those who have experienced webOS and those considering a new smartphone. HP|Palm’s new phone will be on the shelves next to the likes of the HTC Thunderbolt, EVO 4G, iPhone 4 and the Droid family of phones. The new hardware must meet or exceed this group in addition to meeting performance requirements outlined above are met. Run of the mill isn’t enough when you’re running behind the pack. The same can be sound for Windows Phone 7. Despite several new and capable phones, Windows Phone 7 lacks a flagship phone.
On February 9th, HP|Palm will likely introduce a complete eco-system of webOS products. It would not be at all surprising to see tablets, phones, printers and maybe even a netbook.. Smartphones sell volume. Volume sales bring developers, the very same developers HP|Palm will need to bring dynamic new tablet-optimized apps to new line of webOS tablets. This latest comeback will feature an array of webOS devices, but Palm needs a hero phone on February 9th. Any comeback would be incomplete without one.