The Death - and Possible Life - of HP's webOS

Carl Weinschenk

People generally agree that HP's webOS is a good operating system. In this hyper-competitive environment, however, being good isn't good enough.

This week, HP - which bought Palm and the OS last summer - announced during its third-quarter conference call that it is discontinuing webOS phones and its new line of TouchPad tablets, which various reports say haven't been selling.

Techies are like sports fans. They have their favorites and do not take bad news lightly. Wrote Greg Kumparak at TechCrunch:

This news will come as a rather huge punch to the gut for webOS die-hards (myself included, though you can't say that we couldn't see it coming), many of whom have stood by the product for years - first in hopes that Palm would eventually launch a device worthy of the rather fantastic operating system, and later in hopes that HP's acquisition of Palm would be the spark to the fire that just never seemed to light.

The link is to another TechCrunch piece, in which John Biggs does a good job of seeing the handwriting on the wall or, more accurately, on the screen.

Clearly, webOS was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even assuming that it is as good as its proponents claim, it suffered by its direct competition with Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Of course, both have something going for them that may even be more important than the high quality they rightly can claim: iOS and Android have generated a tremendous amount of excitement and unique profiles in the mobile device world. A relatively anonymous OS - at least to consumers and even IT departments - naturally will struggle.

Different observers have their own takes, of course. CRN suggests that HP internalized development too much and therefore launched the TouchPad with few applications. Gizmodo looked both behind and ahead:

It's huge news. It means that the smartphone market just became a four way race between iOS, Android, Blackberry and WP7. It's also one less OS in the burgeoning tablet market, which is really just getting off the ground. And likely explains the recent price drop on the TouchPad. It also comes on the heels of reports earlier today that HP is spinning off its PC business.

The speculation now is on whether HP will be able to sell it - opinions appear to be about evenly split - and which companies are the most likely candidates. For its part, HP claims to want to do something with it. The company said in a press release that it "will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward."

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