My colleague at Tech.pinions, Steve Wildstrom, wrote a great piece last Friday that chronicles Palm’s past and suggested that webOS is at the end of the road. While he may be right, a part of me wants to think that at least Web OS could live on even if Palm as we knew it has lost most of its key staff and any talent left have been absorbed into HP.
webOS got its first chance for life inside Palm, and its second chance when HP bought Palm and made a commitment to use it as an alternative mobile OS to Android.
The key reason for HP’s decision to buy Palm, and use webOS, is that after years of being tied to Windows and then looking at the prospect of being caught up in a similar relationship with Google and Android for their mobile devices, they made the calculated decision to back webOS. And in buying it, it was supposed to assure them that at the mobile device level, they could finally control their own destiny and not be forced to back Android and all of the things Google demands associated with Google product attachments in order to use it.
Not long after Palm started development of webOS, our firm, Creative Strategies, was asked to look at this new mobile OS and work with them on mobile use cases. As a result of this project, we got to see webOS up close and through this exercise, we began to understand that this was, at the time, the best mobile OS available. Since we did that project, Android and iOS have emerged as major operating systems for mobile devices, but from our work with webOS, we still consider it better than Android and in some ways equal to iOS.
One of the things we discovered early on is that webOS is built on WebKit and as a result, software developers can use standard Web development tools to create apps. We saw this as a real advantage since it meant that Web developers as well as professional software designers could write apps and we expected a robust eco system of apps to evolve quickly.
However, HP was slow in getting an actual tablet to market with webOS and given the competitive landscape, it was pretty much DOA when it did finally ship. And as you perhaps know, Their webOS tablet was killed after only a week on the market.
Last Friday, HP’s CEO, Meg Whitman apparently said in some media interviews that HP would bring out a webOS tablet in 2013. However, I went back to HP to clarify that statement and while my sources did not refute what she said, they hinted that what they most likely will do is look for new form factors to use for supporting Web OS and that a tablet may be one of them, although that is not in stone at the moment.
For now, webOS will move into an Open Source environment and although HP will have a dedicated team of developers contributing to the further development of Web OS, now many other developers can also add to and enhance webOS as well. That means that webOS should get even better than it is today. Given that perspective, I would like to suggest that webOS could and should have a third chance at life in the mobile market.
One key reason is that webOS is really an excellent mobile OS that is built on a strong foundation and is easy to develop for. Another reason is that to date, there have been no legal or patent claims against it and as far as I can tell, it is legally the cleanest mobile OS available. And third, smartphone and tablet vendors are still interested in a third OS or more specifically an OS in which there are no strings attached.
This last item is important. Samsung recently decided to back a third OS called Tizen (formerly known as Moblin, ) as they wanted an OS that they could control on their own. But they chose Tizen because webOS was not available and at the time, Tizen was the best option available that they could choose. Many in the industry thought Samsung would actually bid for webOS after HP said the were going to drop this OS, but its price tag back the was probably over $1 billion. But now, with it going to Open Source, it would not surprise me if some of the tablet vendors, especially those on the fence when it comes to backing Windows 8 for Tablets, decide to use webOS at least for their consumer products even if they have Android products in the works. The main reason they might consider this is that with webOS they would have control of their own destiny and not be forced to adhere to and be driven by Google and Microsoft on future products.
I don’t know if webOS will gain traction, but given the fact that it is a great mobile OS that is very easy to develop for, and one that would give vendors more control of their mobile futures, it would be a shame if it does not see the light of day in some other new mobile products and form factors in the near future.
One thought on “Why webOS Deserves Another Chance”
Tim, I agree with everything you say about webOS. The problem is how you maintain the interest of a developer community given the dire hardware situation. What’s out there now is all the hardware there’s going to be for at least many months to come. It’s not a large number of units, and they are doomed to grow increasingly obsolete as other platforms advance. I hope I’m wrong, but given the scarcity of developer resources and the demands of other platforms, it seems to me that the elegance of webOS just isn’t enough to keep the platform vital until new hardware might come along.