I spent some time looking through the just-emerging web OS technical documentation, and it quickly became apparent that Palm’s approach is radically different from both Android’s and Apple’s. Since they’re all here at more or less the same time, running the same Web browser on roughly equivalent hardware, this represents an unprecedented experiment in competitive software-engineering approaches.
“Equivalent Hardware”, You Say? · Yep. They all have 3G, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, bright high-res screens, pleasing form factors, you name it. Apple has historically had more design mojo, but on the other hand they suffer from a certain institutional tight-assedness that has led, for example, to the iPhone having only one button while my G1 has a lovely trackball, a super-handy “Back” button, and a slide-out keyboard; this is the same culture that resisted multi-button mice for so many years.
Apple may hold a bit of an edge if they can defend the patent fence around multi-touch, but that’ll be a hard perimeter to maintain.
Given the proliferation of lean, mean, and smart handset manufacturers, I just don’t see any one party being able to grab and hold a hardware lead.
Software From Different Planets · It’s like this:
|Apple||Objective-C||Cocoa||Old-school object-oriented language compiled to the metal; general-purpose UI framework with roots reaching back to NeXT.|
|Android||Java||Android||Java language, custom VM, built-from-scratch UI framework aimed at small-form-factor devices, fairly abstraction-free, based on “Actions” and “Intents”.|
There are some things missing from the table above: Blackberry, JavaFX Mobile, and Windows Mobile. Blackberry, because they don’t make much noise about developer tool and what one does hear isn’t that encouraging.
The Experiment · An unstated premise of this experiment is that developers are important. If the hardware is mostly a wash and everyone’s got the same browser, the big differentiating factor here is going to be the quality of the apps.
Now, I can make a good argument, from theory, as to why each of the approaches featured in the table above is the right way to go for the mobile space. But I don’t have to, because we’re all going to get a ringside seat while the world runs the experiment, then we’ll know. Apple’s 2-year head start is material but not, I think, decisive.
This is going to be fun.