When you ask any normal (read: non-techie) on the street what are some of the biggest mobile platforms, you’ll hear two main answers: iPhone and “Droid”. BlackBerry will likely get a fair showing still while you might even hear “Palm” uttered a time or two. But for all intents and purposes, the only modern OS’ that are blowing everyone else away are Android and iOS. HP CEO Meg Whitman, however, thinks there’s still room for their failed platform, webOS.
At the company’s global partner summit in Las Vegas, Meg Whitman suggested that Google’acquisition of Motorola is going to turn Android into some sort of closed system, much like Apple, and because of that truly “open” platforms like webOS still have a chance.
“I think there is room for another operating system. iOS is great but it is a closed system. I think that Android may end up as a closed system because of [Google’s] relationship with Motorola.”
Well, Meg. We hate to break it to you. But (1) Android hasn’t been “open” for a while (if it ever truly was in the purest form) and (2) webOS’ openness means absolutely nothing going forward; at best it is a codemonkey’s hobby on nights and weekends.
Android is always a touchy subject with mobile users. Ask any daily Android user and they’ll tell you Android is the polar opposite of Apple — open and free for the world to use. Ask an iOS user on the other hand and they’ll point out numerous instances in which Google’s own actions contradicted that “open” mantra. But more recently (say the last 12-16 months) we’ve seen the openness of Android curtailed not by Google’s own personal agenda, but by carriers and manufacturers. You see, Android isn’t open to consumers. It’s open to OEM partners like cellular carriers and manufacturers who are free to install and cripple whatever features they want, and then in turn sell that locked down, closed experience to end users like you and I.
So if Android is a closed/open combination of numerous companies and parties, then the now open sourced webOS must be the best option for a truly un-bound garden. Right? Wrong. As we’ve said before, webOS is dead. While it will certainly carry on for some time thanks to the determination and loyal niche following that has built up around it’s short-lived glory days, webOS will forever be in a state of development; it is a never-ending project getting ported from one piece of hardware to another. If Android is already hard enough of a platform to provide a consistant experience, as popular and widespread as it has become, then webOS and it’s open sourced environment will never truly reach a level of consistency nor capture a percentage of the market large enough to matter.
What’s ironic, though, is that Meg acts as if a closed system is bad considering how HP has built an entire business around proprietary hardware in their bread and butter product — printing, more specifically printers and ink. Such a system has helped HP reap tens of billions of dollars over many years.
In the mobile world Apple has created this very same closed, proprietary ecosystem that is extremely connected, tight, and most times, trouble free. Deny Apple’s logic all you want. They are killing it in the mobile sector. They may not have the largest share any more, but you don’t get to be the most valuable company in the world without having stumbled onto some successful formula.
Apple’s formula for success in the mobile world has been so monumental in shaping said sector that Microsoft dumped their very open, customizable Windows Mobile platform and completely rebuilt it from the ground up with Windows Phone. Windows Phone is for all intents and purposes, a very closed system much like Apple’s iOS ecosystem. And even though Microsoft has yet reached the same level of success as Apple and iOS, the foundation that they have built is a strong one. Developers for Windows Phone don’t (yet at least) have the same worries about differences in hardware or carriers/manufacturers mucking around with the OS. Because, as we’ve also said before, cellular carriers and hardware manufacturers are not UI/UX designers or engineers. Not a single instance of their meddling in mobile platforms has turned out well.
While the list of pros and cons for open vs. closed platforms could go on for miles, it’s easy to see the pretty definitive lines drawn in the sand. But Google’s ongoing quest (and all but certain success story) to acquire Motorola adds a new potential twist for Android and a redrawing of the lines.
With Motorola under its helm, Google now has an entire network of hardware designers, engineers, marketers, distributors, etc. They can, like Apple, finally have the ability to create a device (and one would hope) a multi-faceted service that can make Android a much more tightly integrated beast. Because they own everything in between, they call all the shots this time around. For Meg to suggest such a scenario is a bad thing is incredibly short-sighted if not a bit naive. Apple has already shown that closed can work provided you know what you’re doing and do it right. WebOS was following a similar closed, tightly integrated system that ultimately failed not because closed systems don’t work, but because Palm (and later HP) failed at doing their job; they expected webOS’ pretty face and “newness” factor to win over people in droves. Call it cockiness. Call it laziness. But whatever you call it, don’t call it “innovating”.
While hardcore Android users who cling to the “open” mantra will no doubt see any attempt by Google to tie Android specifically to Motorola hardware as a slap in the face and a beginning of the end, we see it as a new, brighter beginning for Android. Android is a great platform that does several things better than Apple simply because it gives people a choice. But as we’ve seen, too much choice doesn’t always equal into a better experience. If Meg thinks HP and webOS have any chance at gaining a notable market share (from either iOS, Android, or any of the other platforms out there) she’s in for a rude awakening. WebOS is dead. The end.