Yesterday HP had its big announcement that had the tech world waiting on pins and needles. A lot of famous people were in the audience, including the requisite journalists and even a few minor celebrities (MC Hammer and Serena Williams). The one thing that everyone seemed to noticed was suspiciously missing was the Palm logo, which is now missing from Palm’s website. [UPDATE: OK, now it's back? Make up your mind people!] This was just a foreshadow of the real stab to the hearts of Palm fans that would come later in the day.
The announcement yesterday wasn’t quite a royal flush; it was more like 3 of a kind and a couple of jokers. I know that would normally be an incredible hand, but suffice it to say that these jokers were not good ones. Let me start with the three of a kind: HP announced three new devices yesterday.
The first device announced, the HP Veer, is an incredibly small, and pretty much adorable, device that is apparently replacing the Palm Pixi line. The Veer has a 2.6 inches screen, which is almost exactly the same size as the Pixi. However, the Veer is a portrait slider instead of a candybar. Another differentiating factor is that in addition to being compatible with the iconic Touchstone charger it has a magnetic USB connector that it charges through and transmits data through. The Veer camera is significantly upgraded over the Pixi with a 5-megapixel camera with extended depth of field. Most of the reviewers that got their hands on it were surprised at how comfortable it was to use, despite its diminutive size. The question remains though, “Is there a market for a small smartphone like the Veer?” Other companies have tried and failed. Does the Veer have something that will set it apart, or will it crash and burn like the others?
Their second device they announced yesterday is the one that most Palm fanboys and girls were waiting on: the next iteration of what was Palm’s flagship phone, the HP Pre3. In addition to having an annoying superscripted number three at the end of its name, the Pre3 also comes with a larger, 3.58 inch, 800 x 480 pixel screen and a 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It also has a front-facing VGA camera and a rear-facing 5-megapixel auto-focus camera with LED flash, and HD 720p video recording. Some other minor upgrades include a digital compass, dual-mic noise cancellation, and a slightly larger battery. Many fans were hoping for something larger, but one of the presenters said that HP wanted to differentiate themselves from the “bigger is better” crowd.
The pièce de résistance of the event was the HP TouchPad. This was the device that kept sneaking out and starting rumors. The TouchPad has a 9.7-inch XGA capacitive, multitouch, 1024×768 resolution display and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel webcam. One of the features of the TouchPad that HP seemed to be the proudest of was the integration of Beats Audio? by Dr. Dre. Although there aren’t any technical specifics about what makes this brand of sound equipment better, HP says that it “reproduces the original sonic integrity of digital tracks?letting you hear the music the way recording artists intended.”
Although the hardware was certainly impressive, a large portion of the event was spent talking about new apps for the devices. HP especially focused on the applications that are designed specifically for the TouchPad, such as the new Time Inc, magazines, the Kindle app, and Quickoffice. However, the highlight of the event was seeing how the new version of WebOS, verions 2.2 on the Pre3 and Veer, and 3.0 on the TouchPad, work and how they work together. For example, you can “move” web content that you are viewing on one device to another just by taping the two devices together. Also, you can answer a phone call or receive text messages that came in on your WebOS Phone on your TouchPad instead. HP also gave us a sneak peak into the future. HP intends to bring WebOS to desktops and laptops, thus bridging the gap from mobile devices to our more stationary devices and extending the experience.
The two daggers to the hearts of Palm fans that I mentioned earlier were discovered after the bright lights had come down and had everyone started to trickle out of the Herbst Pavilion. First, even though HP CEO Leo Apotheker promised that the new HP WebOS hardware was ready and that it would be ready to ship within weeks of the announcement, the Veer is the only device shipping within the next few months. HP officially says on its website that the TouchPad and the Pre3 are planned to be available this summer, and the Veer is planned to be available this spring. These statements have the sad, familiar ring of the line that became infamous within the WebOS community: “in the coming months.” This was the answer every time there was a delay in releasing the Palm Pre, the Pre 2, WebOS 2.0 and Adobe Flash support. It was also noted that neither the price of these new devices or the carriers that they would be on was disclosed.
The second and most painful wound for WebOS fans came when both Engadget and PreCentral spoke to the folks at HP behind WebOS and they confirmed to both sites that the Palm Pre, Pixi, Pre Plus, and Pixi Plus will not receive any more major over-the-air updates of WebOS. Jon Rubinstein told Engadget that the older devices simply did not have the necessary specs to support WebOS 2.0 properly. Apparently HP has “something special” planned for owners of the older devices when the new devices go on sale; what that means at this point is anyone’s guess. In the midst of the resulting torch and pitchfork waving from the incited masses, HP showed its humanity and compassion towards its loyal users when Lisa Brewster of Palm Developer Relations tweeted: “We’ve broken a promise to our most faithful users, and that has my heart heavy tonight. Ppl keep asking if I’m ok.” Palm later tweeted from their official Twitter account: “All the feedback and questions are appreciated — will be sharing as much info as possible as soon as possible”
In the end, HP may have scored a win with the general public, but they also scored an epic fail with their fiercely loyal fans that stuck with them through the WebOS Desert. HP needs to respond quickly to this PR nightmare with something that will salve the wounds that they inflicted. Then, HP needs to get these devices out quickly before new iOS and Android hardware comes out that make the new HP devices look beige and boring again.