A few days ago we received the sad news that HP was discontinuing webOS devices. The only good news out of that was for gadget lovers – HP has slashed prices on the recently released TouchPad (it’s already out-of-stock at Walmart online). The bad news for HP, beyond the bad press and bad stock prices, was that Microsoft leaped on the news and immediately began recruiting webOS developers for their Windows Phone platform.
Microsoft’s Brandon Walsh reached out to webOS developers on Twitter, and began the process of bringing them over to Windows Phone. He even went so far as to offer free phones and other tools. At last check, he had received more than 200 replies.
While HP has killed off the hardware-making side of their webOS business, they are hoping to keep the software alive by licensing it to third-party hardware makers, as Google does with Android. That means HP needs to keep these developers on board. That will be difficult with no agreements in place yet to ensure the OS’s future. Still, they are trying their best to maintain ties – see their blog post The Next Chapter for webOS.
Given the current state, it will be hard for HP to hold onto these developers, and given what they have already done, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t pull the plug on the software side of webOS at any moment. This has been a short ride for HP and webOS, and I can’t help but think that they didn’t give it it’s deserved time and effort. Consider it a premature death.
For a while now I have been controlling my Windows Media Center HTPC with a remote control app on my Android phone. Recently I have been playing with…er reviewing…a DirecTV remote control on the same phone. I control my FreeNAS home server from that phone. I could also control Windows Home Server, a TiVo, a Comcast DVR, and probably many other set-top boxes as well. All of this got me to thinking….will smartphones make things like the Harmony remote control a thing of the past?
For years now, Harmony has reined supreme as THE device to have for home theater geeks, and has even edged it’s way into the mainstream. Sure, there are other “universal” remotes, some of them are even higher-end than Harmony, like Crestron. Yes, Crestron can do a LOT more than the average universal remote, like control home security and lighting. But now there are smartphone apps for those things too.
What can Harmony do that my Android can’t? Well, there are a few things. Some are due to the limitations of my hardware and some are due to the limitation of the apps. For one, my A/V receiver isn’t networked and neither is my LCD TV, so they can’t be controlled from my phone. For another, the “one-app-to-rule-them-all” isn’t there yet. By that, I mean that Harmony can turn on my receiver, TV, and DirecTV HD DVR with a push of one button, even setting the receiver to the proper output and the set-top box to a particular channel. By contrast, my phone requires me to open each app separately to do these things.
So, can Android, iOS, and the others replace these universal remotes? Yes, but not quite yet. The hardware exits already. Virtually every home theater device available today can be found with network capability. If a device can be networked then you can be sure that an app will exist for it. What is stalling things right now is the “one-app-to-rule-them-all” part. Nobody, as far as I know, has come close to creating an app that can control multiple devices, like my HTPC and DVR. Until that happens, and I am positive it will, then Harmony and the others will continue to be survivors.
Microsoft made some big announcements today at the E3 gaming show, most surrounding the Xbox, but a few involved Xbox Live in Windows Phone. However the bigger, or at least more interesting, Windows Phone news came from Microsoft Vice President of Windows Phone Joe Belfiore, via his Twitter account.
Today an Apple fan got excited about the fact the volume up button can be used to take a picture. Mr. Belfiore responded, good-naturedly, that Windows Phone can do a good bit more. It was a rare bit of humor from Redmond, which tends to stick to the policy of ignoring Apple completely (while sometimes borrowing an idea).
Perhaps the Windows Phone team has some reasons to be happy. After all, they are definitely on the rise, while Apple may be running a bit low on new ideas as they have slipped behind Android and are looking over their shoulder at Windows Phone. Today’s announcements didn’t break any new ground, but seemed more like playing catch-up.
Make no mistake though, Apple can never be counted out and may have something huge brewing that hasn’t yet made it into the rumor mill. But, at least for one day, it seems Microsoft may have a leg up.