As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday this week, we look forward to gratefully celebrating the good we've experienced and the fortune we've had. We also anticipate the family gatherings, football games, holiday shopping, and of course centerpiece meal of a roasted turkey with all the trimmings. We tend to not dwell on how the turkey ended up on the plate; its fate is incidental to the festivities.
So it goes with mobile technology: There've been amazing developments this year -- the iPad 2, the unification of Android, the triumph of employee-driven mobile adoption, iOS 5 and iCloud, and the intriguing but young Siri -- that we both celebrate and have made part of our routines. But a few turkeys have lost their heads along the way in preparation for the technology cornucopia we enjoy. Some of these underachievers met their fate due to their own shortcomings -- like the real turkeys that drown looking up at the rain, mouths wide open -- while others were prepped and pampered in good faith for a long life, only to end up cut short and sold on the specials table.
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Without further ado, here are the "winners" of this year's Mobile Edge Turkey Awards.
WebOS. Two years ago, when the first Palm Pre WebOS devices came out, I was disappointed. WebOS had a lot going for it: It was innovative, often elegant to use, and advanced in several areas when compared to iOS. But it delivered only partway in many functions, as if Palm ran out of time or resources and shipped what it had. Meanwhile, Apple and then Google embarked on a more methodical strategy of strengthening their OSes -- and Palm essentially ground to a halt for more than a year as the company looked for a way to survive, eventually bought by Hewlett-Packard.
HP announced grandiose plans for WebOS; it was to power not only a smartphone but also tablets and ultimately even PCs. Instead, it delivered the TouchPad tablet with mediocre hardware and a partially revamped version of WebOS that continued Palm's previous mix of cool and incomplete. That flopped, as you would expect when the alternative is the iPad 2.
From the outside, it appears that whatever caused Palm to deliver an incomplete initial WebOS continued as it became a division of HP (it was essentially the same team). And HP proved it was clueless about developing its own platform, perhaps in retrospect an obvious deficiency, given that almost everything in a PC comes from Microsoft, Intel, or one of the Asian component makers. Management chaos at HP didn't help, but it's clear the failure went beyond the boardroom shenanigans that first brought in and then brought down Léo Apotheker. The result was a spectacular public repudiation of WebOS as HP killed its foray outside of the Wintel computing world.
What's sad about the whole WebOS affair is that the operating system should have become Apple's main challenger. Android is inferior in many ways, and it lacks the vision and innovation that the WebOS team tried to bring. Google's bottomless budget and a gaggle of electronics makers happy to join the tablet party at little cost are why Android has succeeded. Imagine what would have happened if Palm had perfected WebOS early on and made it available for others -- or if there had been a serious HP in its corner even a year ago. This turkey could have been a swan.