Ten years ago, on June 6th of 2009, my world changed. On that day, Palm announced the new Palm Pre and their new mobile operating system, WebOS. Both the Pre and WebOS (especially WebOS) were ahead of their time. Many of the features we now take for granted on our smartphones began ten years ago with Palm and the Palm Pre.
The thing I love most about WebOS was its openness. Google likes to say that Android is open. And compared to the rest of the mobile world, they are. But they don’t even come close to comparing to WebOS.
If you liked to tinker, you could unlock Developer Mode. Developer mode gave you full root access to the device. And the open part? The directions on how to do it were literally in the instruction manual! To enable Developer Mode, you had to enter one of two “secret” codes. The fun way was by entering the Konami Contra Code, “UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A”. The easy way was by entering the code “WebOS20090606”. That second code is part of the reason I will never forget the day that WebOS and the Pre came out!
Palm was way ahead of the times and pioneered many technologies and concepts that have slowly made their way into Android and iOS. Palm was the first mobile OS to use gesture-based navigation. They were the first to include multi-tasking on their device and the first to use the card-based paradigm everyone uses now. Their notifications were interactive. They had “Just Type”, which was a universal search that searched everything on your device and the internet. WebOS also came packed with Synergy that allowed you to link multiple accounts on to one device so you could see emails, calendar items, and everything else, all in one place. Ten years ago, Flash was still a big deal but there were no mobile devices that supported it. WebOS did. And most importantly, it was the first mobile device that supported playing Doom.
One of my favorite features of the Palm Pre was the wireless charging. Many devices now have wireless charging but back then, nothing else did. Even now, I have not seen a single wireless charging device that comes close to the convenience and elegance of Palm’s solution. Rather than slapping your phone on a flat mat and hoping you get things lined up for the best charging speeds, Palm built the phone with magnets in the back that lined up with magnets in the Touchstone charging dock. This way you were guaranteed the best and fastest speeds possible. It also sat on the charger at an angle so you could conveniently see the screen while it was charging. And it could rotate between portrait and landscape.
I could spend hours, if not days extolling all the virtues of the Pre and WebOS but I know nobody wants to hear me talk for that long. Suffice it to say, WebOS was awesome and I miss it. It was the first truly smart device that I owned. It was where I built my first mobile app. The first time I built my own custom ROM. And it is one of the few devices that I can honestly say I wish I could go back to. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into the Android ecosystem but I would leave in a heartbeat for WebOS. I don’t know if that will ever happen though.
Through a series of very poor management choices, Palm was sold to HP. Then HP didn’t know what to do with them, so they discontinued WebOS and the lineup of Palm devices. Eventually, they open-sourced some of the aspects of WebOS and sold the rest of it to LG. WebOS lives on in a much different form on LG’s smart TV’s.
I miss the glory days of Palm and hope that someday soon, we will see WebOS rise again in its original mobile form. In the meantime, I’ll settle for fond memories and wish WebOS and my Palm Pre a happy tenth birthday!
Roy likes to dabble in all things Android and contributes everywhere he can. He owns the site rwilco12.com and its accompanying forum, he develops his own apps and ROM’s, is a Moderator and Recognized Developer on XDA-Developers.com and is the VP of Public Relations for AndroidFileHost.com.