Former Apple and LucasFilm VP tells ME why he believes developers will come to love HP's web-based platform.
Richard Kerris has a much easier commute than he used to.
Takes him 15 minutes to get to work at HP, compared to the two hours he could spend on the freeway travelling to his previous job. But you could argue that it's the only thing that's got easier.
Kerris used to be the CTO at LucasFilm – about as glamorous as it gets for the tech-minded exec. Now, he's VP of worldwide developer relations at HP, and the man responsible for making the planet's app makers believe in webOS again.
Now that's a difficult job. But in many ways you can see why he made the switch – and not just because he gets to make his kids' breakfast now.
webOS was always well-regarded by developers. They like this web-based OS with its open architecture, genuine multitasking and ability to deliver over-the-air software updates.
They're also intrigued by the ability to incorporate more recently added features like 'Touch-to-Share', which lets users bump one webOS (say, phone) with another (say tablet) to share website links.
The problem is the installed base. As readers will know, webOS was originally developed by Palm to power its glorious return to the mobile market in the form of the Pre and the Pixi.
But those phones simply didn't sell.
In Feb 2010, Palm revealed it had shipped 960,000 smartphones during its Q3, but only sold 408,000 of them.
And ever after HP bought the company in April 2010, things didn't improve much.
According to comScore figures released in Feb 2011, the OS grabbed just 4.2 per cent of the US phone market. One can assume that the number is lower elsewhere in the world, where Palm has less of a heritage.
It was a miserly 0.6 per cent in 2010, according to IDC.
But to be fair to HP, the new world of webOS won't be truly tested until the new devices are made available to the public this summer.
They take the form of the highly-anticipated HP 9.7-inch TouchPad, and the two new qwerty smartphones HP Veer and HP Pre3.
Yesterday, HP launched version 3.0 of the webOS SDK with lots of new goodies, so it will be hoping that developers can complement those new hardware models with some cool software.
Getting them on-board is Kerris, who should know a thing or two about developer relations, having done the job for none other than Apple in the late 90s. ME met him...
Can you give an idea of existing developer support for webOS?
We have around 50,000 developers in the programme and 7,000 apps available. But we're encouraged because since announcing the new devices on February 9th, we've seen a 30 per cent increase in developer registrations. And the UK event we've arranged for tomorrow (March 30) has been oversubscribed.
By any objective measure, you're a long way behind Android and iOS. So sum up why a developer should want to work with your platform?
I take that point, of course. But I do think there's a real opportunity for us to be operate somewhere between the tight control of Apple and the wild wild west of Android.
Developers look at two things: the investment and the opportunity. The cost of developing for webOS is low relative to iOS for example: It took just two days to take Angry Birds from iOS to webOS. As for the opportunity, thanks to HP we now have the support that was lacking when Palm was on its own. HP sells two printers and PCs and second. It has a 600,000 strong resale channel.
We have a real opportunity here. But we also need to be humble and ask developers what they want, and respond to that.
So give us an example of how you're doing that.
Take the enterprise space. Enterprises want to extend the capabilities of their devices so fit their own ends. With some platforms that's not possible unless you jailbreak them, which not everyone wants to do. webOS lets you do this. It's open, it uses familiar tools.
Ours is the only platform to connect and update over the cloud. Every other OS says 'here's a mobile device, now connect me to a PC'. That doesn't make sense. Then there's Just Type and Touch To Share, which we're really interested to see what developers can do with.
We have some ideas on discoverability around the app store too, and the way we give content providers the chance to interface directly with customers. There are some companies out there, I won't say who, that don't want to share information with publishers about who their own customers are. We're not in that game. We're working on a few ideas.
You said that webOS is a kind of third way. That's what Nokia/Microsoft is saying about WinPho too. What do you think of that platform?
I'll let you when they have something to show!. I can't imagine that Nokia will go to market without something to differentiate their devices. And that means more fragmentation for developers.
What about licensing webOS to other OEMs?
I can see it in TVs, in cars... There's huge potential there, especially with something like Touch To Share giving people the power to take their content with them and easily switch it between different devices.
Kind of takes you into the territory Nokia was trying to mine with Meego...
I suppose the difference is that we have refined the platform over five years and 12 updates. Everyone knows about the potential of the web, of connectivity and the cloud. It's the way things are going.
You've acknowledged that webOS is some way behind the rest, so how long before you think you'll start to see some quantifiable results?
It won't happen overnight, clearly. I'd say we'll be looking to get some kind of return on investment in 12 to 18 months.
But this is a race that's going to be run over many many years. We're just at the start.
It's just really exciting. Like it did at Apple in 1999 when everyone was telling us Microsoft was too powerful and couldn't be caught. Feels like we've got the band back together!