The weird tale of WebOS: from Palm to LG, a strange journey indeed

pre_05Introduced in 2009 by Palm, webOS (as it was then) was new, unique, fresh and, dare I say, ‘cool’? The mobile operating system was going to be the answer to Palm’s dire situation: Smartphones, headed by Apple’s iPhone, were all the rage. Sales of dedicated devices fell off the face of the earth and everyone, seemingly, wanted a smartphone, preferably the iPhone.  Companies scrambled to introduce a new phone.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, Blackberry and Palm all had phones out. Palm’s success with the Centro was waning.  Sales of its stand alone PDA devices were non-existent and things were beginning to look grim.

At some point, in 2008, they began work on webOS.  At its core was an embedded Linux kernel.  It’s user interface layer, however, was radically different.  It and other parts of the OS were built with web development technologies such as javascript, HTML 5, CSS and xml.  There were API’s written native to the hardware, but most of the OS was done with these web technologies. This was meant to keep it simple.  Palm introduced a clever and nice looking device to run the new operating system: the Palm Pre.  The Pre looked like a smoothPalmPixi pebble, something you could easily jump across water.  It was elegant.  It was also flawed.

The phone was released in July of 2009 on the Sprint network.  Some say that was it’s death knell and, I’d say that was close to spot on.  Sprint, already in dire straits itself, did little to support the phone.  They did not have the iPhone, so one would think they would have supported it better, but, they did not. With in the year, the Pre was available on AT&T and Verizon. The Pre 2 and Palm Pixi were released, but, by now, Palm was in trouble.

A seeming white knight came hopping along in the guise of HP. HP, run by Mark Hurd at the time, was going to do a lot with the Palm division.  A tablet was going to come out, webOS was going to be put into everything from Printers to PC’s and phones.  PC’s would dual boot webOS and Windows 7.  Things looked great.  For a very short time, that is.

Mark Hurd was ousted in a controversy of his own doing. Leo Apothekar was brought in and he immediately made a terrible decision:  He came from the services industry and decided that HP should be one too.  He was going to split HP’s hardware out, kill Palm and the PC division would be sold.  Gone, almost as soon as it came out, was the HP Palm Slate. The tablet ran webOS 3.0 and was fantastic.  When the cancellation was announced, fire sales ensued.  The price went from well over $300 to $99.  Sales were so brisk, that HP decided to do a second production run-using the parts left over from the first-and those sold out as well.  And, with that, the Palm company was dead.  So were the grandiose ideas for webOS.

Along the way, however, Apothekar was ousted and Meg Whitman came in to save HP. She announced that while Palm as hardware was no more, the webOS would continue.  Weeks later, she announced that HP would open source the Operating System and, possibly, use it as well.

weboswatchIn 2013, it was announced that LG (Lucky Goldstar for all of you who remember Goldstar from the 80’s) would purchase the IP and source to the operating system from HP.  LG wanted to use the OS in its televisions, which they have done.  In 2015, LG showed off a SmartWatch that uses a flavor of WebOS (as it is now spelled) as the core os for its new wearables.  This watch is, in effect, a phone. So, WebOS has come full circle: from phone, to tablet, to television to watch/phone.  The odd tale of the operating system that refuses to die is just getting good.

Stay tuned, I’m sure more weird things will happen.

CES 2015: webOS, tablets and funky tv’s

The 2015 International CES is over.  Among the products and product lines shown off were curved Televisions, 4K TV, ‘quantum dot’ TV, TV dongles, tablets, smartphones and accessories, self driving cars and more computers-of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and smart watches and fitness bands. Lots of them.

So, where do we start?  Well, lets start with one of my favorite operating systems. This OS is now in televisions, phones and … soon, smart watches.  Yep, webOS is making a splash with LG spearheading the way.  They purchased the OS from HP in 2013 and began adapting it for use in smart televisions.  The first effort, while it sold five million televisions, was less than stallear. webOS 2.0, however, is said to be fast and easier to code for than the previous release.  It has also been shrunk down to watch size.  LG has, seemingly, teamed with Audi to produce a watch that can open the car doors, place calls and a plethora of things.  LG denies it and Audi was just trying to show off the car.  The Verge reports seeing an ‘about’ screen that shows the webOS version.  For a dead OS, it sure is making a splash.  The interesting thing is that, at the current rate, LG will have more webOS devices in the wild than Palm/HP Palm ever could.

Intel showed off its Compute Stick, an HDMI dongle for your Television that is a complete Windows computer on a stick.  Selling for $149, the Compute Stick features an Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and features a micro-SD slot for future expansion. So, it is a rather spartan PC, but, it is very portable and Wifi enabled,so you could just throw it in a bag, your pocket, whatever and take it with you instead of a laptop. The drawbacks, of course, are that you do need a keyboard and mouse AND an HDMI enabled display. But, if you don’t mind these limitations, the Stick might just be your travelling companion.  A cheaper, $89 version running Linux will also be available.  Though, the Linux version sports half the RAM and only 8GB of storage.

I’m no Sony fan, but, I would definitely purchase their newest 65 inch set. This thing is 4.9 mm thick. The 4K set is thinner than most current smartphones.  It is edge to edge awesomness.

In a big nod to Microsoft’s Surface tablets, a group of former Google engineers introduced the Remix. To be offered up next month via a Kickstarter campaign, the device has many of the same features of Surface, looks like the Surface and its software, another Android fork, even resembles Windows 8 applications and its mail client is a rip off of Windows 8 mail.  Still, It says much about Surface that these gentlemen would decide to ‘me too’ the tablet.

Speaking of tablets, there were plenty to choose from. From a six inch Windows tablet all the way up to a 65 inch, 4k enabled tablet from FUHU.  Perhaps the most interesting ones, however, are the under $150 Windows tablets which are going to be available in the next month or so.  There were no new Kindles, but there were a bunch of Android tablets as well. No one tablet really stood out (well, maybe that 65 incher) but they were all well represented.  Have a look on CNet’s News.Com for more.

For a complete wrap up of the events at CES, the Verge has a good summary.

Windows Phone 8.1: Worthy update

wp_ss_20140422_0002Windows Phone 8 was already a pretty decent mobile operating system, but the 8.1 update makes it more complete.  While no modern mobile OS is as good as webOS was, Windows Phone 8.1 comes awfully close and some nagging issues it had are gone.

After having used webOS for two years, I got really used to its nice way of managing running applications.  Bring up the card view, swipe left or right then swipe away the app you want closed. Easy. Apple ‘borrowed’ the notion for iOS 7 and made it work.  Microsoft, as is often their way, half assed it: they allowed you to swipe left and right to SEE the open apps, but you had to actually go back in the app and shut it down. Not hard, but not simple and not elegant. Well, they fixed it with a simple, if in-elegant way: hold down the back button, swipe left or right to the app and tap the big X in the circle. Effective, if ugly.

Fortunately, other things are much nicer.

Speed, for one.  The over experience seems a bit snappier, but it could also be that ‘new OS install’ factor. We will see, in a couple of months, if it persists.

The Start page is a bit more customizable. You can now have more tiles across the screen. The number will depend on size of the tiles and the screen. You can now use a custom background as well. Be careful here, some of the live tiles may become unreadable if the background contains the same color as the live tile text.

Storage Sense is a nice new feature that not only lets you know about much of your phone’s storage is being used, but it also allows for the installation of apps to an SD card-something that was not previously allowed.  You can also tell Windows Phone to store your downloads on the SD card as well.

Of course, the BIG new feature is Cortana. Cortana is the new personal assistant from Microsoft that is designed to act like Siri or the Google Android equivalent.  Cortana can not only answer questions, but can also do things like add a calendar entry, to do item, set up ‘quiet time’ in which it will answer email, texts, phone calls, etc. It stops the phone from making any noise and lets the calling entity know why.  I have not fully tested this, so I cannot verify it does what it claims, but, if it works as well as the rest of Cortana, then it should be fine. 

This is a worthy upgrade and one that really cleans and polishes some of Windows Phone’s dirtier corners.  It is not perfect, but none of the others are either (well, save for the aforementioned webOS. Have I mentioned how much I liked webOS?) and stills need a bit more refinement.  For example, while overall performance is better, it seems to stumble when reloading the Start page. Some times it comes right up, other times…not at all or very, very slowly.  To be fair, I am running the developer preview, which is supposed to be the shipping bit but without any carrier or phone optimization, which means there are no device specific drivers or other such things to make the overall experience optimal for the device. It also speaks volumes for the work that Microsoft has done: the developer preview will work on ANY Windows Phone 8 device. As is.  That says a lot right there.

** If you wish to take the plunge now and not wait for the official release, you can go here to get instructions on how to update your Windows Phone 8 device to 8.1. NOTE: it is a one way ticket, you cannot revert back to Windows Phone 8 and you WILL lose carrier support (not service) until the ‘official’ release is out. This means, if you upgrade to the dev release and then have a problem using your device, your carrier will not assist you.  Now, if you want to continue…click the link. (The link takes you to Paul Thurrot’s WinSupersite. The article is dated, but the instructions still work.

Tech Nerdvana: Xbox One, PS 4 and iOS 7

It’s been a big few days in the world of tech and for geeks like us.  Microsoft showed off more of the follow up to both Windows 8 and the XBOX 360, Apple unveiled iOS 7 and Sony shows off its me-too prowess with an unveiling of the PS4. Me too seems to be the prevailing train of thought for all three companies: elements of each other’s tech and that of other companies have made it into each of these products.  There’s even a nostalgic flare to some of them.

I have already talked about some of the changes to Windows 8, so I’ll talk about. No, I will talk about the XBOX One, iOS 7 and a little PS4.

First, however, lets get iOS out of the way. 

iOS7webOSMultitaskAs it is from Apple, it has already been ably covered here and here. However, I want to through my two and half cents in as well.  So…here goes…

First, from what I’ve seen, it looks fantastic. They have taken the better parts of the current flavor of iOS, mixed in some Windows Phone/Windows 8 and even a bit of webOS.  The operating system appears to be a little more customizable, though not much more. It has a flatter, cleaner appearance and, best of all, it is backward compatible all the way back to the iPhone 4, iPad 2 and iPod Touch gen 4.

One of the more frustrating aspects of iOS is its poor multitasking. Well, it looks like that has finally been rectified by borrowing a page from the webOS playbook. Multitasking is handled more like the ‘cards’ feature of Palm’s webOS. You get a horizontal scrolling view of the open apps and you can then flick through them from side to side and flick up to dismiss an app. This is pretty much how webOS handled it.iTunesRadio

One of the more vaunted services that Apple fankids have wanted (though they poo-poo the notion from others) is some kind of Zune like subscription service. Well, Apple unveiled its iTunes Radio, an ad supported free Pandora like service. It will be available on all iOS 7 devices. An ad free version is available to iTunes Match customers.

There are other interesting aspects of iOS 7, like some of the photography related features (filters, better panoramics and more. Hit up one of the links above to find out more. 

I have to admit, I am actually looking forward to upgrading my iPhone 4 to this version of iOS.

Apple also showed a bit of its ridiculously named OS X Mavericks.  Not much to say, other than the AirPlay capability of adding a large screen TV as a second or THIRD display via Apple TV looks pretty nice.  APPLE.COM has more on the new OS and the complete keynote by Tim Cook and company.

Now, onto the video games.

E3 started and, with it, the two big keynotes from Microsoft and Sony.  I’m going to be brief with both, especially Sony, but want to hit what I think are the highlights.

First, lets just get Sony out of the way.

They ‘revealed’  PS4 waaaaay back in FEBRUARY. However, they really didn’t say too terribly much and did not even show off the hardware. They talked games and showed the controller. This time, they were more revealing. The console was on display and…it’s very similar to the XBOX ONE. Yep. SO, it seems both companies have taken a page from the 1970’s consumer electronics design playbook (which lived well into the 1980’s) and came up with retro designs, sans the faux wood. Hey, that might make the PS 4 look a little better.

Ok, Ok, enough ragging on Sony (it’s so much fun.)  This time, however, PS 4 looks a little interesting. The style and the guts are, dare I say, pretty cool…

Inside, you will find a beast of a machine:

  • An eight-core X86 AMD Jaguar CPU ps4
  • 1.84-teraflop AMD Radeon graphics engine
  • 8GB of GDDR5 memory
  • Hard-drive storage (not SSD)
  • Blu-Ray drive
  • Three USB 3.0 ports
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Ethernet
  • HDMI
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • optical audio and analog AV out

Sony says there will be no restrictions on used games and you will not be required to ‘phone home’ like you will on XBOX at least once a day to play your games…the games that you bought either on disk or download.

The graphics from this monster look impressive and the game line up looks equally impressive. Oh, and the most impressive part? The retail price is going to be…$399.  Ummm…Microsoft…

Speaking of Microsoft

xboxoneMicrosoft unveiled the XBOX One several weeks prior to E3. The hardware looks great, the entertainment features look great, it is based on Windows and is, essentially, a beast Windows computer. Don’t let that fool you, this thing does not work like your standard desktop. Boasting three operating systems (XBOX OS for the games, Windows 8 kernel for the entertainment and apps and a controller to keep the two working together. It wants to be your internet appliance, your video game console and your entertainment and set top cable box. A bit ambitious, yes.

The games, like PS 4, look stunning.  Fluid motion, realistic water and fire (something that is difficult to do) and consistently high frame rates. But, with all of the goodness, come the badness…

The console requires that it be online at least once a day (in and of itself, not much of an issue since you will likely have it connected to your home network anyway) and the there are a ton of restrictions on games once you acquire them: can only be given away once, publishers get to decide if the games can be resold, etc. Rather draconian. And, then there is the price: equally monstrous at $499. And, with these two downsides (price, game restrictions) I think it likely that Microsoft just handy Sony the ‘win’ for the next gen consoles.

As much as it may pain me to say it, I’m thinking I might be inclined to get a PS 4 long before an XBOX ONE…if at all.

Windows 8/RT App Mini Review: PhotoFunia

I have been sampling some of the applications in the Windows 8 store. Most of them look fantastic (with a few exceptions) and most work well, though seem to be limited. However, I have found a few gems among them.

photofunia1The first is a photo app that takes your picture, looks for the face(s) and then inserts the face portion into a template that you choose. The app, called PhotoFunia, also lives on the web and is available on all major smartphone platforms, including Palm webOS, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android and Symbian. It’s the Windows RT app, however, that shines.

When you start the app, you are presented with the typical, but attractive RT grid layout of template options. Click a template and you are taken to that template’s page. Most of them have a tile that holds the photo you select, maybe an option or two and the go button. You can also pin the template to the Start page or add it to the application favorites.photofunia3

The application then inserts the face of the person in your photograph into the appropriate area of the template, resizing and adding any effects as necessary.

Once complete, you are presented with the final photo, which you can save if you wish (by right clicking to bring up the save bar.)

The speed is impressive, I have only waited a few seconds-less than five-in most cases. I think one took ten seconds, but it had two people instead of one.

There is a plethora of templates included. They range from movie posters, billboards, magazine covers and tattoo’s.  The Tattoo is one of the cooler templates in the application. There are cutesy ones and, so it seems, there are movie tie ins as well (perhaps this is where they make money.) You can get the same templates on the web site as well.

The most intriguing thing, however, is support for Symbian and webOS smartphones. They are still listed on the ‘apps’ page of the website and, indeed, you can see phones that run those operating systems in the photo on that page. It is nice see someone still supporting webOS, perhaps the most innovative smartphone platform out there.

photofunia5The application is free and, so far, I’ve not seen where you need to purchase anything. The web site contains ads, but, so far, I’ve not seen any in the app.

The thing I’ve noticed, so far, with most RT apps is that they look great and PhotoFunia is no exception. The app looks great, is easy to use-even with the mouse and keyboard. In face, I’m really at a loss regarding the criticism about the Windows RT environment and using a mouse and keyboard with it. There is a slight learning curve, but it is really quite easy to use.

PhotoFunia is available in the Windows App Store and is free.

HP’s big moves to dump the personal computer and how to waste 1.2 billion dollars

HP announced this week that it was exiting the hardware business.  Almost, that is.  HP announced its intention to spin off the Personal Systems Group and to also discontinue the Palm hardware that it bought (for 1.2 billion US Dollars) last year. 

The Personal Systems Group is the division responsible for the computers.  Right now, HP is the worlds number one manufacturer of personal computers.  From desktops to laptops and all form factors in between, HP leads them all.  The quality may be in question, but the dominance is not.

HP stated that it wants to get into software and services, much like IBM has done, in a big way and have already started that journey with the purchase of Autonomy for ten billion-yes, 10 BILLION, US Dollars.  Autonomy provides infrastructure software and services for nearly 25,000 customers worldwide.

The divestiture of the hardware line would allow HP to concentrate its efforts on developing itself into a services company.

The discontinuation of the Palm line is not overly surprising.  When Leo Apotheker took over the realm of HP, the writing was on the wall. It was not his deal and never seemed to fully support it.  It seems the goal of having webOS in every device imaginable is now the thing of legend.  While HP has stated it is not abandoning webOS, what kind of future could the OS have?

The hardware line from Palm was weak and never took off and even with an HP fully behind it, it was going to face an uphill struggle.  With the ill-timed release of the TouchPad, the writing was on the wall.  HP, it seems, could not give them away.  Best Buy, reportedly, took an inventory of 270,000 TouchPads to sell, but could manage to sell only 25, 000 of the slate devices.

What this all means is still a big unknown but if you own a webOS device, I’d suggest getting an Android replacement or, if you can find one, a Windows Phone 7 device.  And when that HP computer needs to be replaced, buy a Dell or Acer.

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2011: the year of the tablet?

Maybe.  I’m not sure that it will be, but there are a slew of new and exciting tablets coming out over the next few months.  Among them, the webOS powered TouchPad from Palm/HP, the Xoom from Motorola, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the RIM/Blackberry Playbook and, of course, the just announced Apple iPad 2 (gee, what a clever name.)

The Samsung and Motorola devices are already out and the Blackberry and HP devices should be out sometime in the middle of the year-possibly too late to make any kind of difference outside of the business world (for the Blackberry device.)  Apple is bringing the iPad 2 to market on March 11.

Of all of the devices-and they all have some really nice features-the HP and Apple devices look the best in terms of features and usability.  HP’s acquisition of Palm gave it, perhaps, one of the best mobile platforms ever: webOS.  webOS is perfect for a tablet device. It was, like iOS in the iPad, designed from the ground up to be a finger friendly operating system.  Unlike Windows, which is keyboard and mouse centric, both iOS and webOS can be used strictly with your fingers and be productive. 

Other tablets, like the Xoom and Galaxy, use Android as the operating system but, unlike iOS and webOS, it was not designed to scale properly for tablet use and is not overly finger friendly. Still, devices using Android are compelling enough that they can be worthy competitors to Apple and iPad.

iPad 2 has enough new features to warrant its purchase even if you already own the original iPad.  While I am not as enamored by the forward and rear facing cameras as others, I can see the forward facing camera being useful for video conferencing when used with a stand (who would want to hold the bloody thing that long?)  The thinner and lighter device also features a gyroscope for better orientation detection, a dual core processor for faster and smoother operation, improved graphics performance and, shockingly, new accessories such as the ‘smart cover’ and new video cables that feature HDMI output that will mirror what ever is on the iPad 2 screen on your big screen television or monitor.  (This feature, part of the new iOS 4.3, will also work on the original iPad, once upgraded.)

touchpad1The TouchPad, from HP, is a 9.7 inch tablet running the webOS.  This nice looking device features a 1.2 gigahertz, dual core processor that is fast. At first glance, the device resembles an iPad.  The operating system, however, really shows the very different approaches that Apple and Palm took when developing the user interface layer.  webOS performs true multitasking, that is, you can start multiple apps and each app will continue to function, even when you are doing something else. With iPad, you are really just switching from one task to another with the task you leave simply stopping until you get back to it.  Some apps, like Pandora, are allowed to do certain things in the background, like play music. TouchPad also features a compass, gyroscope and accelerometer so it knows just where it is, relatively speaking. Resolution is 1024 by 768, same as the iPad and other similar devices. Audio is stereo out and stereo speakers are included.  Wireless charging is standard and uses the Touchstone charging system that the Pre uses.  Initially, only the Wi-Fi version will be available, but a 3g and 4g version will be available after release.  As nice as this seems, HP really needs to be aggressive with pricing.  It cannot cost more than the iPad and, really, needs to be cheaper. 

You can read more about TouchPad here.

I’m torn as to which device I would purchase. I already have an iPad and the Pandigital eReader, so I don’t need another but…the HP and iPad 2 are very tempting and the RIM Playbook looks awfully nice as well.  I would lean toward the TouchPad, but would have to see what the pricing is going to be before ruling out iPad 2.  (And don’t forget iPad 1, it is now $100(US) cheaper until inventory runs out.)

Oh, and where is Microsoft? They have a nice operating system in Windows Phone 7 but they have said that they will not be using that in a tablet device. Instead, they want to cram Windows 8 into phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, the Hadron Collider and anything else they can adapt it for, which is, in my opinion, a mistake. Looks like they have just ceded the market that they helped create. They really want to become a niche company it seems.

I’m off to play Angry Birds now.  Cheers.

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