HP WebOS: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

Dave Zatz —  October 29, 2011

Another week, another HP reversal. Or is it?

As the story goes, HP outbid several suitors to pick up Palm and their webOS assets about a year and a half ago for a cool $1.2 billion. It was an interesting corporate maneuver as HP previously had minimal success in the mobile space pitching Microsoft-powered handsets to corporate America and webOS would provide an attractive, modern operating system to a broader audience. In fact, they had dreams of porting the OS to all sorts of devices, including printers and computers. But the Palm team’s sluggish development pace and perhaps uninspired hardware design continued under HP. And, despite promises to the contrary, they launched their iPad tablet competitor with incomplete software… leading to a number of unflattering reviews and lukewarm sales. Fast forward a mere two months, instead of doubling down, HP blows up the enterprise – discontinuing the TouchPad with fire sale pricing and leaving the webOS unit in limbo. Some layoffs began last month and earlier this week The Guardian reported that HP will completely “kill webOS” and lay off the remaning 500 employees in that division. Or will they? One HP exec responds to this “unfounded rumor” via an Engadget transcription that HP continues to evaluate ways to “effectively utilize that phenomenal software.”

So what’s it going to be? HP is clearly a dysfunctional and schizophrenic organization having gone through three CEOs in little more than a year and backtracking on plans to spinoff their PC business. (Keeping it around was the correct move.) After several months in limbo, I believe webOS is dead at HP – despite what execs feed investment television. Given their failure to commit, even more than their failure to execute, webOS surely belongs elsewhere. The question is will anyone offer HP enough cash for them to unload the property? Unfortunately, I’m not feeling hopeful and envision a Cisco-esque Flip flameout.

5 responses to HP WebOS: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

  1. For more evidence of HP’s schizo tendencies, look no further than their TouchPad blog postings… First they were to be no more TouchPads ever. Then there was another production run underway with online sales to resume. Then they crossed out every line of that post yesterday. I’m sure Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings appreciates these distractions from his aborted Qwikster launch.

  2. It’s a shame. I think there’s a real demand for a web-centric competitor to the iPad, one that’s not linked to Apple’s heavily managed App Store. Now it seems like the Kindle Fire is trying to fulfill that role instead. The Fire is competitively priced; the question is whether the 1.0 hardware is good enough to tempt enough buyers.

  3. They just tried to do the iPad, without starting with more basic platform building hardware. They had phones. Should have built the phone around as a remote control/media device. Followed that with a streamer device, to a DVR, and possibly a home VOIP hardware device.

    I can remember when Griffin Tech had a hack to turn an iPod into a remote control. That was followed later with th Touch models that allowed external attachments.

    But if WebOS is so great, WHY wasn’t it distributed like a Linux distro? And just like BeOS, it’s now gone like the end scene in The 1st Indiana Jones movie….

  4. And again, on the same day HP says there are no more Touchpads available and Best Buy says you can get one with the purchase of a PC…

    Stupid stupid stupid.

    If they were just going to shut the damn thing down no harm I guess. But if they weren’t they did a really good job of making it unavoidable.

    I agree that the Palm hardware was always lame–the Pre was just a little small, issues with the keyboard, no touchscreen only model, the stupid focus on even smaller phones, etc. And the software wasn’t really any better. It had great design and ideas in it, but generally poor execution–too slow even on fast CPUs, crashy, incomplete. Sad though.

    Oh well, now there are two–iPad and Android, with Windows 8 waiting in the wings.

  5. Anyone looking for their own OS would find a bargain buying WebOS. Amazon still looks like a good fit for WebOS. HP has actually been slowly patching up some of the performance problems with WebOs, so Amazon wouldn’t even nearly have as much work left.

    i still think it will be sold off for at least the patents. Although that could still mean the end of development for WebOS.

    At least the touchpad can live on with Android. Looks like it’s basically a sure thing that there will be a decent android port no matter what happens to WebOS.