Why WebOS will (mostly) fail: the 1% solution

Mike Cane just posted on his excellent blog, arguing that WebOS can be successful in spite of a lack of apps:

That’s a problem of perception. If every platform has the same Top 100 apps, any deficiencies beyond that point aren’t that big a deal. If everyone can have 99% of what they want on a platform, there is no compelling reason to jump ship and lose that investment chasing a missing 1%.

His argument is compelling and well written, but I think it has three basic flaws:

  1. Diversity in Unity
    The first basic flaw in Cane’s argument is that there is surprisingly great diversity in everyone’s “10 things I need” lists. His 10 things don’t intersect too well with mine … never mind millions of others.

    So while in theory the top 100 applications should cover most people, the reality is that everyone has outliers in the “10 things I need” lists. And when your must-have is everyone else’s who-cares … the hundreds of thousands of apps in the iOS app store become important.

    You’re just more likely to get what you want … even in the 1% of your desires.

    Maybe even more importantly, you’re more likely to feel that you’ve got “platform insurance” in case your desires ever change. 300K+ apps and counting is good future-proofing in case your interests take a radical shift.

  2. It’s not just the top 100
    The second basic flaw is only looking at 100 apps. Not everyone gets into apps right away. For some it takes a long time.

    But when they discover the universe of opportunity in apps … 10 isn’t enough. 30 isn’t enough. Even 100 isn’t going to be enough, over time. They’re going to have more apps on their phone.

    Maybe not right away, and maybe not everyone. But eventually for most, and certainly for the adopters and sneezers who create buzz and spread platforms.

  3. WebOS needs switchers
    The third basic flaw is the most obvious. Cain says if users get most of what they want on a platform, there’s no compelling reason to switch. Well … he can’t be talking about the tens of millions of WebOS users today, can he?

    ‘Cause they don’t exist.

    It’s not about users staying with WebOS. It’s about users switching to WebOS. Good luck with that … a platform users switch to needs to be twice as good as the existing platform, just to cover switching costs. And only a dreamer thinks that WebOS is ever going to be twice as good as iOS or Android or even Windows Phone 7.

It’s unfortunate, because WebOS had/has some real innovations. And the people behind it were among the leaders in mobile technology.

But WebOS – even with HP’s formidable marketing muscle – is not going to be a major platform in mobility.

It’ll never be as good as the proprietary models (iOS, Win Phone 7) or as cheap as the open source models (Android, Meego).

Thanks for showing up, though. There might be a ribbon for that.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I think you’ve missed the point. There are still HUNDREDS of millions of potential tablet sales to go. The 15M iPads are just a drop in the bucket.

    1) Did you know that the minimum screen specs for Android 3.0 currently rule out 7″ screens because the resolution requirements are greater than that of even the Galaxy Tab and NookColor? Yet a 7″ tablet is a compelling form factor for many, many people:


    So webOS will have great advantage. No one in their right mind will want to buy a 7″ Android tablet running 2.x.

    2) Even you make the point about the game not being settled immediately when you state: “They’re going to have more apps on their phone. Maybe not right away …” Right, that takes time. Plus, the full wealth of possible tablet apps has yet to be realized. Given how easy it is to develop for webOS, it’s highly likely that a breakthrough app will happen on *it* first rather than iOS. Especially if HP/Palm are less censorious than Apple.

    3) webOS doesn’t need switchers. The market is still wide open for tablets. There’s only the iPad, some crap cheap Android tablets that have burned lots of people over Xmas, and the too-expensive GTab and forthcoming $800(!!!) Xoom. My point about switching is that once someone has bought any tablet — iOS, Android, or webOS — and has invested in apps, they are unlikely to give up that investment to get the missing 1% available on another platform. They’ll first cajole the developer and recruit others to petition for a port. This happened with original PalmOS and Pocket PC apps.

    4) Tablets are a different species than desktops, so people really won’t know *what* they want or need until they have one in their hands. I provided a list of ten things I’d like to have — but that doesn’t mean I’ve thought of everything I could possibly *want* in the future. I expect to be very surprised by what developers create, as I have with what they’ve done for the iPad.

    Thanks for reading and posting with a rebuttal.

  • Good comeback. (But I’m not convinced.)

    Scale brings developers, customers, apps, media, cost reductions, re-investment, media attention, etc. etc. … and iPad already has that. Those hundreds of millions are more likely to go iPad’s way than WebOS.

    Realistically, though, we’re going to see an explosion of Android-based tablets, especially in emerging or somewhat closed economies (Korea, China, etc.) and that will take away a lot of WebOS’s growth room too.

    About the 7″ … it wouldn’t be the first time Jobs has said “we’ll never do X” and done X 5 months later.