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peter

December 14th 2011 4:29 pm

Four reasons why open sourcing webOS won't be enough to save it

HP finally revealed the fate of webOS last week, announcing plans to open source the orphaned mobile OS rather than sell it to someone else or simply abandon it. As a fan of the open source model I was pleased to hear this -- it would have been a shame to let webOS die -- but I'm also realistic that opening it up isn't going to suddenly resurrect the OS and put it right back into contention alongside iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Here are four reasons why I think it's going to be an uphill battle:

1. No one has been doing any serious work on it for months.

Apart from a few small patches and updates, it doesn't look like HP has been doing any serious development to improve the OS, and that's a big problem. For starters, it was clear when the TouchPad was released that webOS still needed a lot of improvement; iOS, Android, and Windows Phone have all been moving ahead during that time, putting webOS even further behind.

2. Who will do the heavy lifting?

Though HP has said it's going to start selling webOS tablets again sometime in 2013, there's no indication that they're going to pour huge resources into developing and maintaining the OS. To be successful, open source software usually needs someone really committed to driving development, like the Mozilla Foundation does with Firefox. It's possible that someone will step up and take the lead here, but until that happens it's hard to see webOS really moving forward.

3. Why would any major manufacturer use it?

There isn't a compelling reason why any manufacturer would use webOS over the alternatives. Yes, there are plenty of nice things about webOS, but is there enough there for someone like HTC or Amazon to go to the trouble of using it over Android? I know there's the possibility that current Android phone makers might want it as a counterweight to Google's acquisition of Motorola, but would webOS be a better option than a bunch of those OEMs just getting together and forking Android? Smartphone makers know that Google is committed to improving Android (and Microsoft to improving Windows Phone). Until it's clear where webOS is going it's unlikely that any of them (at least not any major ones) would want to go to the trouble of developing and marketing a phone running it.

4. Are there any unresolved patent issues?

One question that remains unanswered is how much webOS is at risk to the same kinds of patent claims that have plagued other mobile operating systems. HP is holding on to all of the patents it acquired when it purchased Palm, and they say they will use them to defend webOS, but how strong is that commitment? Would they really use those patents to protect a competitor that's using webOS? The selfless move would be to donate those patents to Open Innovation Network, but I doubt that will happen.

This doesn't mean I don't think webOS has a future. It'll certainly attract plenty of hobbyists, and we may see it show up on a few random devices here and there. Not saying that things can't change, but as it stands right now there's not a lot of evidence to suggest that webOS has much of a chance to re-enter the mobile OS horse race.

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37 replies
spydaweb

Unfortunately, I think your assessment is pretty dead on. As a Pre owner and former (day 1) owner of a TouchPad. I am a big fan of the platform, but I just don't see a future for WebOS without some strong and consistent support from a big organized player.

The current iteration of the OS is too half-baked and in need of major work. Part of the reason I returned my TouchPad.

I'm currently holding out for Windows 8 (running the DevPrev on my non-touch laptop). I'd definitely consider a dual boot with WebOS on a PC tablet in the future though.
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adamparish

Even without recent development the UI is still faster, smoother, and more multi-tasking friendly than iOS or Android. I think webOS will live for a long time.
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Fanfoot

Not from the reviews I read. It had constant glitches in performance that were 'explained' as being the hardware's fault, even if that still sounds fishy.
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moijk

This is typical from a non-user, have no idea but have taken bits from different review and compiled it to something which doesn't have a grasp with reallity. I've never in the time since the firesale had any hardware glitches, not even software one. it is a slow interface, but beside that it's great.
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jbrandonf

Just because it hasn't happened to you doesn't mean it's not an issue. Jeezus...relax. I'm a huge webOS fan but even so, that doesn't mean it didn't come with issues.
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sovereignjohn

I find your comment interesting. If webOS is faster, smoother, and more multi-tasking why has HP failed to sell a ton of them?
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moijk

HP sold a ton of them in the firesale.. The reason however it failed was that it wasn't a iPad, and it wasn't an android table. so it was an outsider. People never got to know how wonderful webOS is. I own a touchpad, and frankly it is amazing. I'm downloading the sdk right now, which is my way of contributing (making software for it)
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jbrandonf

That ton was only sold because of the price, not because of webOS' advantages.
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SJ

I agree with that. Look at that Crappy Amazon Fire tablet. Those are flying off the shelf. Its amazing that people buy mediocre products.
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jbrandonf

That's always been the case...its the price point that speaks to customers. They think they're getting an iPad-like tablet for only 200 bucks.
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Dawagner1

5. There are no hardware standards for tablets or smart phones.

This will cause development costs to be high to implement webOS on any device. When manufacturers get into the software business, they tend to do a pretty crappy job. It would be much easier for manufactures to go with windows phone 7 if they want an alternative to Android.
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Woadan

I have to agree with you Peter. WebOS died when Palm was bought by HP.
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ZeroC4

True, that was the beginning of the end for WebOS. It's kinda hard to believe that Palm (The Company that for a time WAS the Handheld computer industry) was swallowed up by HP only to be tossed aside shortly after. Bringing it to the Open Source Community is a nice gesture but one has to wonder is it only because no one would buy it or are they looking for free labor to expand the OS functionality to include other hardware.
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SJ

I would have tossed it aside after seeing 3.3Billion rack up with no sales! Remember, it was Rubinstein (PALM) and his management team that were in charge. Not sure how you can blame HP on this one. All's it proves is no matter how much cash was dumped into Palm, it would have continued to lose money. The crappy products were all Rubinstein. No wonder Jobs fired him.
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jbrandonf

They didn't even give it a shot. They expected iPad-like sales after a few weeks on the market. They didn't give it enough development time, they didn't support the existing hardware and platform evangelists, they also released a phone that took resources away from their flagship that underwhelmed...that enough for you? HP screwed up royally with webOS.
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SJ

I am amazed by the "didn't give it enough time" comments. The sales were terrible. I was actually amazed that they moved them at the Fire sale. HP did screw up in buying the place and then leaving the Rubinstein in charge. They should have let it go out of business. No one could have turned that sinking ship around.
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jbrandonf

They couldn't have expected a profitable product within the first year. They should've sacrificed profit initially in exchange for mindshare and market share. Palm was not doing well at all before and after the purchase but it stood a chance if someone at HP had vision and enough balls to carry it out.

Now...its just way to late. WP7 is slowly coming along and RIM is planning their reboot for late next year..its a shame really.
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SJ

Take time? They couldn't... There were absolutely no sales. Before the fire sale, they had sold less than 20K... and at 3.3Billion, I would say that was enough of an investment. Also, remember the articles about Best Buy telling HP to come get them? I am sure they told HP if you don't take these things back, we aren't going to take any computers... Also, WP7 unfortunately isn't doing any better... They actually lost market share and are trying to go after the low end phone. You can't even get a WP7 device with more than 16GB of memory...
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jbrandonf

No sales because it couldn't match the iPad spec for spec but priced almost exactly the same. My point stands. They should've sold it for ~$300 instead. Windows Phone is selling but at a slower rate than iOS and android. Also, it has to replace the Windows Mobile platform as well, which are no longer in mainstream sales channels.

Certain phones are going for the low end..the Focus Flash, Lumia 710, and Radar are some examples but there are top end devices as well like the Focus S, Titan and Lumia 800.
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SJ

The cost of the touchpad was more than $300.00. They couldn't have made money.
WP7 isnt selling... Check the articles. They are losing share quickly. Latest numbers show a .3% drop in share down to 5.4%... This is after a new release. iPhone continues to lead in the most important category the % of dollars spent on smartphones... and I am not an Apple fan. In fact, I wish Microsoft would get their act together and clean up WP7 quickly.

venturebeat.com­/2011­/12­/02­/android­-market­-share/
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jbrandonf

Like I said they would've had to sacrifice profits for some market share. They ended up doing that anyway...

Also, if the smartphone segment of the mobile phone industry is expanding what I'm saying is that WP7 just isn't selling at the same rate as android so it's losing market share. Even iPhones are losing some because they're not selling at the same rate as androids.
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Fanfoot

Some profits? HP sold a few hundred thousand Touchpads during the fire sale right? At a loss of maybe $300 each? So maybe 90 Million Dollars lost. Imagine if they tried to compete with Apple at this rate. Apple is selling some 11 million iPads a quarter. Even at 20% of this number, HP would have to lose two thirds of a billion dollars a quarter. I don't think you've been doing your math right.
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jbrandonf

Well obviously they won't sell it at firesale pricing. And their tablet sales would never equal Apple during the initial rollout so again, you're exaggerating a little there. Once the Touchpad is know as a great device and it has some of the spotlight taken off of the iPad they can build a higher end model for a higher price.
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jbrandonf

Who were you responding to?
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SJ

@Woadan. WebOS died way before HP bought it. Otherwise, it wouldn't have been up for sale.
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Syrinx

This OS is dead. No ecosystem to sustain it, no hardware makers lining up. I ordered 3 "fire sale" Touchpads between HP and Best Buy thinking I'd be lucky to get one but ended up getting all 3. I was underwhelmed by the Touchpad; should've paid attention to the reviews. The rock bottom price didn't make up for it. I don't understand why people put up with laggy performance on their devices.

Two of my Touchpads have been sold on eBay and the 3rd might be put on eBay although I'm still debating it. Might use it as a video player for my kids on long road trips or something.
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SJ

You underestimate the Android impact. HTC isn't doing as well as it once was. Samsung is the new partner on Android, with Motorola owned by Google, with no indication that they will be spun out and that the acquisition was for IP... This, in addition to other companies looking for alternatives will point towards adoption. It won't become Android anytime soon, but we will see some phones come out with the OS... LG is another possibility. They are looking at Samsung walk away with huge sales while they languish....
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jbrandonf

Google doesn't actually own Moto just yet.
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peter

It's a nice notion, but there is no evidence to suggest that webOS will be the beneficiary of any shift away from Android -- assuming there even is one!
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SJ

I am sure there will be a huge shift once they start to use Moto. Why else did they buy it? Don't say IP... If that was the case, the people would be gone by now or the place spun off. Microsoft may also get lift in this. Windows Phone 7 is also looking better after Mango.
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phi

How about another list of what could save webOS?
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lookitsron

The OS by itself isn't enough. What about services? iOS has Siri, iTunes, App Store... Android has the Market and other Google stuff. I do think #3 is key. Only if someone used the OS like Amazon did Android and provided their own content and services, then, maybe, webOs could be saved. I don't see it happening though.
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keppy

I agree, and I don't think HP even thinks open-sourcing it will save it. The only way to inject another serious competitor in the smartphone OS space is with serious amounts of cash, a good OS, a good piece of hardware, and serious marketing. Of those, webOS only has one, and open-sourcing doesn't provide any of the others.

But, outside of HP providing all the other needed elements, I think it was probably the best thing they could do with it. It's certainly better than killing it completely and burying the code and innovative ideas held within. Now at least those of us interested can continue tinkering and putting it on whatever is feasible.
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Fanfoot

Actually I think management just has no idea what to do and is getting conflicting advice. And nobody wanted to buy it. This won't work either and they'll just waste more money that could be spent doing something else. But they don't have a clue.
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roberto

I totally agree that as an OS it is dead. I just hope it gives Matias Duarte over at Google the opportunity to incorporate some of its features into future Android OS versions.
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EBone

#3 is the key - you could tinker with it all you want, but unless a manufacturer signs on to build hardware, the OS is dead. RIP Palm.
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theattack

As long time Pre- user and now owner of a (courtesy of firesale $150) Touchpad, I can say I was excited over the open sourcing announcement. But not because of any future hardware. I'm hoping the guys at @webosinternals get their hands on it and update webOS to add better usability for current hardware. My Touchpad could use (tons of) improvements which HP was unwilling to do. Maybe these guys can help. Anyone who thinks there is a real future is delusional, that ship has sailed.
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