The HP Touchpad. For a tablet that was on the market for only a few short weeks, it has had an impact that many device manufacturers surely envy, which seems almost bizarre when you consider that a major factor in HP’s decision to cancel it was lackluster sales. As you all may recall, HP ended up liquidating their entire inventory of TP’s in what was probably the most amazing firesale deal we’re likely to see in our lives, and as a result anywhere from 700,000 to a few millions of these made their way into the hands of consumers. Many of those consumers fell in love with it and its webOS 3.0 operating system, praising its well designed user interace and impressive approach to multitasking that many still consider to be superior to iOS and Android’s.
So why did the Touchpad fail? A number of reasons – but probably the most significant of these was the limited amount of major app developers that got behind it to make their flagship apps available on the platform. To address this, a port of the Android operating system was developed for the Touchpad by the Cyanogenmod development team, allowing Touchpad owners to reboot into Android when they wanted to use an app that was unavailable to webOS.
Now however, a startup company is seeking to give users an even better option. The appropriately named Phoenix International Communications Inc is comprised of webOS fans from all over the globe who collaborate together via Internet. PIC, as they like to be called, has recently launched a Kickstarter project (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1957339277/run-android-apps-in-webos-on-the-hp-touchpad ) which if successful will release a software application called the Application Compatibility Layer (ACL). When installed on the Touchpad ACL enables users to download both paid and free Android apps directly onto the device, installing them so they sit side by side with native webOS apps and can be run in cards just like any normal webOS app. This removes the need to dual boot into Android, allowing webOS users to stay in their preferred operating system all the time.
If this sounds like it’s a bit complicated to pull off, it is. Fortunately however the project is not starting from scratch. The project is based on existing technology by OpenMobile, a company based in Framingham, Massachusetts, which offers this technology to OEM device makers. PIC has posted some videos online showing an early alpha version of the technology in action. There is still a good amount of work to be done however to refine the system, improve the performance and make it truly market ready, and PIC is seeking to raise the $35,000 they need to complete this work.
Seeing the functioning alpha version both answers questions and raises more questions, and we’re glad to be able to get at least some of the answers direct from the horse’s mouth, the horse in question being Marc Edwards, Development Manager at PIC.
Why the HP Touchpad? There already is a workaround by using Cyanogenmod
“The answer to this one is that you have to start somewhere, and we feel that the Touchpad, being the most well known webOS device stood the best chance of gaining enough support to make for a successful Kickstarter. It’s unfortunate, because other webOS devices like the Pre3 simply do not enjoy the same degree of name recognition that the Touchpad has, and it is unlikely we would have received the same about of support we are currently getting with another webOS device.”
But why ONLY the Touchpad?
“We wanted to be able to get the software out to the market within a reasonable time frame, and increasing the amount of work required by trying to have it support multiple devices does not seem to be a wise decision to us. To perform it’s best the software needs to be optimized for the hardware it is running on, and just because the TP and say the Pre3 share similar CPU’s and GPU’s may not necessarily mean that accommodating both of them will be a quick and easy task. The great thing though is that if we have success with the TP project, so long as the demand is there for it on say the Pre3 and the Veer, we can then look seriously at doing a poject for those devices as well. Hopefully too that will not cost as much, as I would imagine it could be based on the TP code.”
But on the Kickstarter campaign, you don’t make mention of the Pre3 or other devices
“Kickstarter has pretty specific rules regarding how they want you to run projects. They want the backers to make decisions based on what is promised for the current project, not on speculation about a future project that may come next if the current project succeeds. So while we definitely want to have ACL available on the other devices, that is not something that can be put in our Kickstarter campaign. Maybe I shouldn’t even be saying that here!”
Ok, here’s another one. Android 2.3? It’s over two years old already
“Well, that’s a interesting one. Firstly, let me point out that something like 40% of android devices are still running 2.3, and the vast majority of apps still support it – the progression towards apps that can only run on Android 4 is going at a slow pace for that very reason. I would expect a year or so before being on 2.3 starts to become a big issue for MOST people from an App compatibility perspective.
“It’s related to the timeline for getting the product out onto the market, as well as the budget. A year ago when OpenMobile was working to get this out the door, Android 2.3 was not considered to be too far behind. But then what happened happened, and the product didn’t make it out the door, and now here we are today. In actuality, the decision of whether it will be 2.3 in the final version as in the demo has not yet been made. It’s something that is being looked into at the moment. OpenMobile has actually already been working with version 4 in ACL versions aimed at other devices. If it turns out that we can make the switch to Android 4 without introducing significant delays and exploding the budget we will do so. If it turns out that we can make an arrangement where it launches with 2.3.3. and then users can upgrade afterwards, that would be something that we would do. But we don’t know yet, so it’s better to leave the expectations where they are for now until we can be sure that we will be exceeding them. “
Some people are saying that $35K is a lot of money to be asking for – why is it so expensive?
“The people that say that probably don’t work in software development. It is not a lot of money for a project of this nature. Also, it is not even the full cost of getting this done. PIC has already put up money to get the ball rolling on this – our members have dipped into savings, taken out loans, delayed other expenses, etc. And $35K raised on Kickstarter is not even $35K. By the time you take out Kickstarter fees which can be as high as 10% and the cost of rewards, what we get to go towards the project ends up being far less than that. $35K is really the minimum that we need in order to get this done, and if we don’t make the goal, we lose the money that we’ve invested so far. We’re actually sticking our necks out pretty far to try and make this happen, so we’re really hoping the community will show up and support us. Basically, if we don’t make the goal, we lose the money we’ve already committed. So it’s a bit tough on me personally when I see people saying that we’re trying to pull a fast one, or that were looking to make a quick buck….we comitted our own money first long before we asked anyone outside PIC for a penny.“