HP has killed its line of webOS devices, but could it have ended differently?
When the Palm Pre smartphone first introduced us to the webOS operating system in June of 2009, many felt that it had a bright future ahead of it. Apple's iPhone was selling hand over fist, and Google's Android platform was just getting its legs under it, but Palm's take on the mobile computing scene was still met with plenty of enthusiasm. Fast forward to yesterday, August 18, 2011, when HP officially killed production of the entire line of webOS devices. It's plain to see that the mobile scene is a fickle one.
WebOS promised to offer smartphone users a new mobile experience. It attempted to offer the simplicity of iOS — large icons and an always-there dock — with a closely integrated web experience full of social networking and media features. Its default applications were, for the most part, well designed, and its eventual support of Flash made it more media friendly than the iPhone.
But where did webOS take a wrong turn? Could a few key decisions be to blame for the demise of the promising new platform, or did it ever even have a chance? Let's take a look at the two years between the birth and death of webOS and see if we can pinpoint where it all went south.
Palm first unveiled the Pre at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2009 and it was the debut device for Palm's new webOS operating system — the first real competitor to the iOS and Android platforms. At the time, it was seen as a bit of a dark horse, but Palm's namesake and favorable hands-on impressions from industry insiders helped the new mobile OS gain a foothold.
An exclusivity deal meant the Pre was available only through Sprint for roughly the first 8 months of its life. The Pre broke Sprint's sales records for a device launch, and it seemed like Palm had actually created a winning combination in a post-iPhone landscape. A year later, the updated Palm Pre Plus joined the Pre's ranks alongside the smaller Palm Pixi, and more smartphone users began to enter the webOS fold. Though it wasn't all sunny — hardware quality issues began to arise and some customers jumped ship for the likes of iPhone and Android.
HP buys Palm, webOS is part of the deal
Then in April of 2010, computer giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) scooped up Palm and the webOS operating system for a cool $1.2 billion. HP seemed enthusiastic about the future of webOS, and began working on plans to expand its reach. The company announced the Pre 2 in October of 2010, a phone which utilized webOS 2.0. The Pre 2 optimized multitasking and streamlined a user's entire web presence by integrating features of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo! into one easy-to-browse location.
Unfortunately, despite an early promise that an over-the-air update was in the works for older webOS devices, HP eventually announced that webOS wouldn't be able to keep that commitment. This lack of support for past webOS devotees created plenty of negative feedback, and may have been a key turning point in the demise of the platform.
By this point, the iPhone was firmly entrenched as a smartphone powerhouse, and the various Android devices that lined the shelves of every wireless carrier boasted not only features comparable to webOS, but also a thriving app marketplace. webOS apps were decidedly harder to come by, and while thousands of apps eventually found their way to the webOS catalog, it was outclassed by iOS and Android. Massive advertising campaigns kept the iPhone and Android handsets on the top of everyone's wishlists, while the Palm line slowly faded from the spotlight.
When the TouchPad launched on July 1, early reviews were mixed, but optimistic, and it seemed like the new slate could potentially carve its own niche in the iPad-heavy market. Android tablets were already having a tough time keeping up with Apple's device, but those who wanted an alternative needed to look no further than HP's tablet. Unfortunately, customers just weren't buying it, and it wasn't long before stores began openly complaining about the stacks of TouchPads that were remaining untouched.
That was all it took for HP to pull the plug on everything it had put into the still-green operating system, and August 18 the company unceremoniously killed webOS via a vaguely-worded paragraph in an otherwise unremarkable press release. The announcement came just days after a genuinely upbeat announcement that HP was permanently discounting the TouchPad to $399 after an enthusiastic customer response to a weekend sale.
It's difficult to imagine what kind of discussions went on behind closed doors in the strange tale of HP and webOS. How could a company shift from unbridled enthusiasm for webOS to axing the platform the month after the release of its marquee device? It's a strange story indeed, but that's just what HP did.
An uncertain future
What it comes down to is that no single decision spelled the end of webOS. Even today, the platform might still have a chance at a future if the rights to its roots are snapped up by a new manufacturer. A lack of direction, questionable hardware quality, and abandonment of early webOS adopters all likely lead to this inevitable end. Powerful competitors like Android and Apple's smartphone and tablets didn't make things any easier for the fledgling platform, but plenty of customers still swear by it. But for now, we have to close the book on webOS, and hope that some day we meet again.
More from Tecca:
- Tablet Wars: Meet the HP TouchPad
- HP slashes TouchPad price by $100, now starts at $399
- Document your home renovations with your smartphone