Super late first thoughts on webOS, now that I’ve had a chance to dive in.

Hohoho

Our fabulously talented CTO is a well-known webOS advocate. He’s weathered every storm Palm has been through since the introduction of the original Pre, which he still rocks, because he’s on Sprint and is feverishly waiting for the new phones to come out this summer. As he is an awesome dude, he surprised me by ordering a Pre 2 for me to test, unlocked, as a developer unit from HP. The phone showed up today, and I made an executive decision to shirk the rest of my responsibilities for the afternoon.

WebOS definitely has a lot of things to like about it, not the least of which is the ability to manage the information coming in much more effectively than most other phones. Its notification system is widely regarded one of the best (if not the best, depending on who you ask) in the biz. And it’s all true: notifications are super cool. They make sense, they stack up, and you can dismiss them without fear. Multitasking is actually that, with apps updating in the background so you can return to them and see what you’ve missed accurately. I had my Google Apps account set up and synced quickly, and I created a Palm Profile to backup the device. The built-in apps are as polished as Apple’s own offerings, and webOS really shines visually. It’s a lovely user experience.

However, I couldn’t get past the idea that, like Android, simple things sometimes take too many steps. Sure, once you’ve used a platform for a while, you develop those tiny muscle memories that let you fly around a device like Mozart on a harpsichord, but for a beginner – even someone like me who spends a lot of time with mobile devices, it was a little daunting. The gestures are cool, but they’re a little strange when you get started. It’s hard to remember what to do at first, because you need to memorize a series of actions; with Android, you actually see the buttons you can press, and with iOS, well, there’s only one. It’s one area where I think Apple found a path of least resistance for new users.

But the single thing that would stop me from making this phone (and any webOS phone for that matter) my daily driver is the lack of software in the App Catalog. The developer base is small, but passionate, and I respect them immensely for embracing the platform, but there are too many gaps for me to be able to use webOS exclusively. Dropbox isn’t natively supported, but I saw an app or two that might work. There’s no 1Password client, which is huge for me. Twitter and Facebook are there, but I have such idiosyncratic needs when it comes to those things, I don’t know if I could find a client I liked. Overall, it’s disappointing that I just can’t seem to find some of the things I rely on heavily every day, and I use my phone in such a specific way that it’s hard for me to just settle for apps that don’t quite do what I need them to.

Ultimately, I hope that webOS can make it; it’s interesting and has a lot to offer. The new hardware seems promising, if HP can get it into the market and in the hands of users. I’ll be curious to see if they can throw the marketing weight and budget behind the new devices the way they need to. My guess is that it ends up being a missed opportunity, but I really do hope I’m dead wrong.