WebOS vs. iOS vs. Android: User Adoption vs. Developer Adoption

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HP, intrepid acquirer of erstwhile darling of the mobile set Palm, has taken the little bit of value left in Palm, WebOS, and is building its new platform on it. It is important to remember that HP used to be the vendor to go to to get Windows Phones (or WinCE, or Windows Mobile, or whatever branding they stuck on it in an attempt to make it palatable). Windows Phone is basically dead in the water, and HP, which sees the beginning of a death spiral for Nokia, and an advanced one for Blackberry, wants to save its mobile business.

HP really had two choices: go Android, or walk away. It chose the third, and picked up the one remaining, if non-existent market share, platform left: WebOS.

One of the more interesting things in WebOS is that its development model is totally unlike every other mobile platform, both new (iOS, Android) and old (Symbian, Blackberry). Rather than a specialized computing platform, variant on C/C++ that underlies most complex desktop applications, WebOS applications are build entirely on HTML5+JavaScript, on top of Ryan Dahl's NodeJS platform.

WebOS has chosen to go for the same environment in which every single advanced Web application is written, essentially harnessing, or at least giving a huge leg up to, millions of Web application developers.

Of course, at the same time, WebOS is trying to fix some of the issues with iOS, like seeing multiple windows simultaneously, real switching between applications, and other challenges, but at heart, this is an effort to win the masses by winning the developers.

At first blush, I would expect it to fail. Apple has such a large installed base, and Android is growing so rapidly, that it seems impossible WebOS will catch up just by making life easier for developers. At the same time, Microsoft did severe damage to Apple in the PC Wars largely by recruiting many developers, and thus making the number of installable applications too compelling to users. In many ways, Apple recognizes this with its constant reminders that, "there's an app for that", and the number of applications available on the App Store.

However it turns out, HP is taking a risk, but one that makes sense. Rather than giving up on the market entirely, or ceding control to Google via Android (which might as well be the same thing), or trying to face Apple + Google head-on and lose, it is taking a different approach, attempting to win customers by sheer developer mass. It is a risk, but given HP's situation, if HP management has the staying power (pun intended, given its turnovers and travails), it might make a real contender.

Of course, I did type most of this on my iPhone....