Palm's webOS certainly faces strong competition as it vies for attention from manufacturers, carriers, developers and consumers. But Palm was able to knock out at least one ailing offering by making webOS the replacement for the old Palm OS. For others it may not be so easy. In fact, with the barriers to entry now so high and the commitment to existing operating systems so great, webOS may be the last major smartphone operating system launched for the foreseeable future.
With webOS taking the baton from Palm OS, the number of major smartphone operating systems has stayed fixed at six. Three of them -- Symbian S60, Windows Mobile and Android -- are intended to be used by handset makers from multiple manufacturers, whereas iPhone OS, BlackBerry OS and webOS are used only on the handsets offered by their developer. Of course, even these "purebred" operating systems owe much to older platform technologies, with Android and webOS being built atop a Linux kernel, iPhone OS having its distant roots in FreeBSD, and BlackBerry and Android building on Java. The race to attract software to these platforms has ignited an arms race of development funds to both prime the supply pump and the promotion of app stores to lead the horses to he touch-sensitive virtual koi ponds..
Developing and maintaining a smartphone operating system is a serious and expensive undertaking that can consume a company. Producing the original iPhone caused Apple to miss the self-imposed ship date of Leopard, and third-party app support did not come until much later. Whatever Microsoft is planning in a major overhaul for Windows Mobile 7 has taken long enough to warrant the release of the interim 6.5 release that still leaves the company far behind the state of the art. WebOS development clearly took up a significant portion of the $425 million investment from Elevation Partners in Palm. And finishing a 1.0 release is just the beginning.