There's a whole lot of misinformation on the web right now about reasons why HP had troubles with the TouchPad and eventually had to abandon the entire webOS hardware division. We'd moved on internally after yesterday's news but a bunch of stuff that popped up online today prompted a quick discussion about the realities of webOS hardware.

It's Not Qualcomm's Fault

Someone somewhere started this idea that by using Qualcomm hardware the TouchPad and presumably Veer/Pre 3 were handicapped. The theory is that by using Qualcomm hardware HP somehow limited performance of these devices and made it very difficult to run on devices that used other, non-Qualcomm SoCs.

Time for a reality check.

Palm's webOS launched on TI's OMAP 3. The original Palm Pre ran on an OMAP 3430. In fact, I did a quick head to head between it and the iPhone 3GS when it came out given the similar specs of the 3430 and Apple's 3rd generation SoC.

The Palm Pixi, on the other hand, used a Qualcomm MSM7x27 SoC. At the same time, the Palm Pre Plus was available with the same OMAP 3430 as the original Pre. Here we have two different SoCs which themselves implement different versions of the ARM instruction set (the MSM7x27 runs ARMv6, OMAP 3430 runs ARMv7), and yet it was possible to port the current version of webOS between two different SoCs from different vendors running different ARM instruction versions entirely. 

Morover, webOS 2.0 is fundamentally the same beast at an OS level as webOS 1.x. The Pre Plus and original Pre can run webOS 2.x just fine (with appropriately changed radio firmware), an OS originally intended for the OMAP 3630 in the Pre 2 and the HP Veer's MSM7230. Porting between different SoCs thus isn't entirely impossible - already we're up to webOS 1.x and 2.x running on 4 different SoCs. It's reasonable to say that porting is actually relatively easy. 

In fact, while doing the HP Veer review and poking around inside webOS 2.1.2, we found numerous references and plugins which were definite remnants of OMAP3 compatibility. This isn't a surprise at all considering that the Pre 2 likewise runs webOS 2.1.0.

It's not flip-a-switch trivial to port between SoCs, but it's not shoe-eating impossible, either. Apple, NVIDIA, TI and Qualcomm all implement the same ARMv7 instruction set in their latest SoCs (with the exception, again, of the Pixi's MSM7x27 which used ARMv6), and thus code compiled for one processor should run just fine on another. There are differences in terms of power management and what other instruction set extensions are supported (e.g. ARM's NEON SIMD extension, or thumb, vfpv3, and others) but these are minor in the big scheme of things. They require development time, but presumably the webOS team has (or is it had, now?) developers on staff whose responsibilities were to smooth over these differences.

Respective Extensions from cat /proc/cpuinfo:

Processor : ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)
Features : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp thumbee neon vfpv3
Processor : ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)
Features : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp neon vfpv3
Processor : ARMv7 Processor rev 1 (v7l)
Features : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp thumbee neon 
Processor : ARMv6-compatible processor rev 5 (v6l)
Features : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp java 

One of the bigger issues in porting between these SoCs has to do with graphics drivers. While all of the aforementioned companies implement the same ARM instruction set, they all use very different GPUs. Each GPU requires its own driver, no different than on an notebook or a desktop. In the Windows world it's like driver heaven, every major GPU has a driver available for every major version of Windows. In the mobile space it's a bit more complicated.

Because there's an Adreno 220 driver for Android doesn't mean that one exists for iOS or webOS. To a certain extent, each OS needs its own driver. Granted there can be a lot of code reuse thanks to similar standards existing across the OSes (OpenGL ES 2.0 for example is on all three OSes) but here's another area where development time is required.

There are other differences as well between SoCs. Differences such as what video encoders the OS will use for camera input to encode both JPEG and MPEG video. What decoders onboard the SoC to use for video playback or flash video acceleration. Where and how big the SDRAM is. What interfaces (I2C, SPI, GPIO and USB) are to be used for accelerometer, ambient light, gyro, pressure, or compass sensors. Which of those I/O ports are used for controllers for the touch panel, backlight, LED, vibrate and WLAN. All of these are considerations that make moving an OS between not just SoCs but hardware platforms, something that initially seems daunting but really amounts to pointing things in the right direction and including the right kernel drivers. Thankfully since webOS is linux based, the kernel should take care of a huge percentage of that difficulty and largely make any SoC that Android runs on a potential host for webOS. 

In the end, while it does require work to port webOS to various SoCs it has not only been done in webOS history but it's a small part of the work required to bring a new tablet or phone to market. If this were an insurmountable task then we wouldn't see Android working on every single major SoC released.

It's Really Not Qualcomm's Fault
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  • Impulses - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    I don't see how they're paying any special service to Qualcomm while dispelling myths... I read the article in question and saw other sites parrot it verbatim, Engadget even erroneously claimed the TouchPad had a single core SoC... That kinda blatant rumor mongering and headline grabbing (let's not call it journalism please) may seem obvious to you or me, but a lot of other people would read it and take it as gospel. AT's just trying to set the record straight.
  • NeoteriX - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    Seriously, what are you talking about?

    If you've been following AT's discussion on the evolution of the mobile SoC space, you'd know that with each generation of ARM SoC, the performance has been roughly the same, with OMAP, A5, Tegra, and Snapdragon trading blows on different benchmarks and metrics. The kind of "two times" performance gains between a dual core A5 and Snapdragon SoCs are not simply possible from a sole hardware perspective. This isn't about being an improper Qualcomm apologist, but it's clearing the air of misinformation.
  • z0mb13n3d - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    Not sure why you think I'm contending what Anand and Brian are saying here.

    Please read my comment once more. I agree that the article itself is quite factual and explains the scenario very well.

    What I'm not so comfortable with is how or why AT felt the need to 'clear the air of misinformation' as you say, when this is definitely not the first time a particular vendor has had fingers pointed at them by random, less than well informed bloggers, for what is basically not their fault.

    This should have been more of a Pipeline post than a full-fledged article. I don't remember AT coming out to defend a myriad of other vendors who have been caught in a similarly difficult situations in the past.
  • bplewis24 - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    I totally understand where this guy is coming from.

    I personally don't have any problem with the article itself, but I was shocked to see AT write the article at all. Like the OP, I've seen plenty of misinformation on tons of subjects that AT covers, but I've NEVER seen them write an article to clear the air on any of those subjects. Why this one? Why this time? It's almost like they took is personally.

    It's just an odd development IMO.
  • z0mb13n3d - Saturday, August 20, 2011 - link

    Exactly. The tone of the article seemed more like a knee-jerk reaction to defend Qualcomm than to really prove some already useless report wrong.

    And just to make sure I wasn't out of my rockers, I did a quick search of AT and realized that there was absolutely no mention at all of the Apple-Samsung fiasco. Surely that would be something a lot more people are interested in knowing more about as it affects two of the major platforms and many major vendors, than how one vendor has been called out for the death of a platform that probably had less than 1% of the market.

    Again, hope this article was just a one off. I can always hit up any one of the numerous blogs for product endorsements.
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Saturday, August 20, 2011 - link

    I think you are incorrect. This isn't an effort to defend Qualcomm, it reads more like an admonishment of HP for neglecting the performance aspect of webOS. Seems like the point of the article isn't that Qualcomm's feelings were hurt, but that HP made a mistake as a hardware manufacturer in not paying attention to software performance.

    Which is a good thing to remind people of, since the biggest issue with, say, Android, is the actual real world performance, what with bloatware and custom UIs installed by the device maker.
  • feelingshorter - Saturday, August 20, 2011 - link

    This deserves an article due to the fact that HP is liquidating their TouchPads and a lot of people (including me) was thinking it was the hardware. But infact, it is due to HP not optimizing the hardware. WebOS was reportedly runs 2x faster on the iPad 2 than it does on HP's own hardware. This liquidation is breaking news and has made google news headlines. Why wouldn't it had its own article when he is giving out a ton of technical details that bloggers no nothing about.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, August 20, 2011 - link

    My apologies if this came off as being something posted to protect Qualcomm, I just thought it was a fitting headline given the horrible misinformation that's been floating around.

    You're right that it's not the first time folks have made silly claims online, nor will it be the last. This just struck a nerve with a lot of us. It was clear from the start that webOS needed work. Using silly things like Qualcomm as a scapegoat just seemed very wrong. I had some time so I started writing, Brian added his thoughts and we published. Nothing sinister, I promise :)

    Pipeline is limited to ultra short pieces, I didn't figure it was a good fit there as we're trying to build that section to just be for ultra short/quick news to augment our in-depth coverage.

    Take care,
  • B3an - Saturday, August 20, 2011 - link

    I liked seeing this article Anand and have no problem with it. Infact i think that you should start doing these kinds of articles with other similar BS myths and so called "news" thats contently posted around the web and gets lots of attention.
  • Kaboose - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    Just ordered from HP directly for 90.09 after tax (using code SAVE15HP) for the 16GB model (or code SAVE30HP) for the 32GB model. Used an academic account.

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