For most people my age, when they think back to their first smartphone they think of one of two manufacturers: BlackBerry or Apple. When I talk about my first smartphone experience, I generally just refer to the first time that I used an Android because it’s the most relevant today. But really, I believe the first time I became smitten with the idea of smartphones was probably after I was introduced to a much less popular smartphone: the Palm Pre.
I’ll admit that I was not initially very interested in the Palm Pre. I thought the rounded shape of the device was odd, and the sliding keyboard coming out of the bottom of the phone vertically didn’t sit well with me at first. But aside from the strange design, I did find a couple of things about the device that I really did like, and that was the soft keyboard and the platform, webOS.
Many, many people will tell you that BlackBerry is the king of all physical keyboards. Their keyboards were so loved that they’re still able to make a pretty penny off of the fact that they’re pretty much the only manufacturer today you can depend on to release phones with physical keyboards. I’ll admit that when it comes to modern-day smartphones BlackBerry still manages to do right by the physical keyboard - just look at the reviews for the Passport. But back then? I would have chosen a keyboard from Palm over BlackBerry any day, and for a very specific reason: they worked wonderfully with nails.
The soft silicone keys of the Pre, which was actually quite common in Palm devices in general, was able to provide one of the most comfortable typing experiences I had ever had. It might sound stupid, and maybe it was, but when it came to having a smartphone with a physical keyboard Palm was right on the money. Until that point, any phone I had owned with a keyboard was made out of hard plastic. This caused my nails to frequently slip off of the keys, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it wasn’t comfortable. Palm’s keyboard, in comparison, was freakin' fantastic.
What made the Pre really stand out from any other Palm device that shared the same silicone keyboard (Palm Centro, Palm Treo Pro) was, of course, the introduction of webOS.
In my opinion, when HP ultimately decided to drop webOS from the mobile industry entirely back in 2011 it was a tremendous loss. I remember snagging up one of HP’s TouchPad tablets during the massive fire sale that stores were having following the announcement, and when I got home and started using the tablet I was reminded of just how great webOS was. It was a solid, clean interface that was, in certain ways, ahead of its time.
Take the way webOS handled multitasking, for example. The idea of “cards” is now a pretty consistent feature throughout each major mobile operating system, but webOS was the first. It was so simple to switch between and close apps on webOS. Clearly this idea worked, or else it would have died off with the platform.
webOS also had the ability to use multiple communication platforms into one threaded message with a person. You could SMS, IM, and even e-mail somebody and have it all happen in just a single threaded message with whoever you were talking to. This still isn’t completely implemented in platforms today, which is a shame because it’s a terrific idea. Somebody should use it.
And of course there was Touchstone, the wireless charging dock for the device, which was just the bee's knees at the time. Aww, who am I kidding? Wireless charging will always be cool.
Overall, though, my favorite thing about webOS was how clean it looked, and its overall potential. I strongly believed at the time that webOS was seriously going places. If the platform hadn’t been abandoned in 2011, I think that webOS could have been a great contender in the smartphone industry today. I guess that’s easy to say since we’ll never know at this point, but I was pretty bummed when I heard that it would never be possible after that point.
On that day, I had only realized that one of my two favorite things in the mobile world were being taken from me. Not fully realizing that physical keyboards were on the steady decline, no other manufacturer really got the chance to bring back that wonderful keyboard that I adored so much on the Pre, which was used again in the Pre 2, the Palm Pixi, and twice more with the short-lived Veer and Pre 3. webOS as we knew it, along with my precious nail-friendly keyboard were gone, only to be remembered in fleeting thoughts years later.
The death of webOS was quick and unexpected, but also painless. At least it didn’t go down in flames so that we may always remember it fondly. (Unless, of course, you were not a fan of webOS.) Rest in peace, old friend.