HP Smart to Kill webOS, And It Should Stay Dead

HP is officially dead as I know it. The world’s number one PC maker is looking to spin off that part of the business and is killing off its entire webOS platform. (You know, the one HP spent $1.2 billion to acquire a little more than a year ago.) HP trumpeted grand ambitions for the platform, including rolling it out to printers and all PCs starting in 2012. Based on my experience with webOS devices in recent months—especially the lackluster TouchPad—HP made the right call in putting the software out of its misery.

Now that rumors have already started to swirl about potential suitors sweeping up webOS, I have some friendly advice: Don’t do it.

The problem with webOS was not so much the lack of apps—although that was a huge issue—or that the hardware just wasn’t up to snuff. It was the OS itself. Essentially, the webOS name was too apt. Loading applications felt like opening web pages, with too much lag. Both on Pre smartphones and the TouchPad, simply responding to an e-mail felt like a huge effort for the platform. And while HP addressed some bugs with its over-the-air software update for webOS 3.0, I still couldn’t recommend the tablet.

webOS had some things going for it, including the way it handled multitasking and notifications. But it went too far with the whole Activity Card motif. Opening a new tab in the browser became a whole separate window. Why? To show how pretty stacks look on the home screen? But I knew for sure that webOS was not long for this world when a dual-core processor couldn’t speed up the experience. That means there’s something very wrong at a very fundamental level. If the future of mobile computing is about mobile devices and not traditional PCs, nobody’s going to put up with this kind of sluggish experience.

HP says that it will discontinue the TouchPad and webOS phones, a mercy killing that I totally support. The Pre 3 was going to be a bomb, and I just don’t see HP being able to make up for lost ground against iOS and Android. What’s next for webOS? The company claims “it will continue to explore options to optimize the value of the webOS software going forward.” Since HP is discontinuing webOS devices, to me that could only mean one thing: that it’s looking for a buyer or licensees.

Right on cue, Twitter is all abuzz about HTC adding webOS to its portfolio and Samsung scooping up what’s left of Palm to bolster its strength in software. While webOS will probably go for cheap, I would strongly advise any potential suitor to think twice about adopting this platform. Sure, you should try to leverage Palm’s IP and patents—if they come as part of the deal—and even leverage some of webOS’ best interface elements and underlying technologies, such as Synergy.

But webOS was just killed for a reason. And it should stay dead.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Richard Hom OD MPA Says:

    HP is such a large entity that it is difficult to stop a freight train once it gets going. Simply, the purchase of Palm was budgeted and no matter how good Apple or the Android platforms, the decision to move ahead was just too much to stop. Mind you, HP is a wonderful organization, but it is too clumsy to work well in the realm of consumer electronics.

    In the world of printing, they are supreme, but that luster will soon wear off as users discover that printing isn’t as important as presenting it on electronic devices. The relationship to images and mobile devices is apparent, however, it is difficult to perceive whether the WebOS platform could deliver on image and entertainment, the major beneficiaries of a tablet.

    What helped both Apple and Android were their forays into smart phones. No such leverage was evident at HP. Therefore their tablet device suffered significantly from product confusion as it fought for shelf space with Android and Blackberry tablets. It just couldn’t get mind share.

    In a bigger picture, what can HP do and do well? I think it is evident that HP is an enterprise player and not a mobile consumer player.

  2. Rick Diaz Says:

    There are things that WebOS still do better thank Android and iOS. If you are somebody who used it for a while you would understand that. I can look at notes during conference calls with the card multi tasking. i could start an app and leave it loading information while doing something else. All messages were merged by the OS so i did not have to worry where messages came from. On the original phones i could switch between applications with a simple swipe, no double button pushing.

    So there are a lot of things that WebOS brought to the table that should not die..

  3. JJ Says:

    Can’t see how it’s smart to piss away $1.2B and a year of development. This was one piss poor effort on the part of HP. What an embarrassment.

  4. Richard Says:

    HP announced they planned to stop the development of webOS hardware. Not to kill webOS. webOS is probably going to be licensed, to hardware developers like SamSung, or HTC. This is positive though, because webOS is capable of doing so much more than Android and IOS. I would love to see it on a Galaxy SII-like device, or Desire-HD for that matter.

  5. CC Says:

    If the previous poster is correct and all HP said was that their ceasing webOS hardware development, that’s a whole lot different than the premise of this article which is that HP is abandoning webOS itself. Big difference.

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