The weird tale of WebOS: from Palm to LG, a strange journey indeed

pre_05Introduced in 2009 by Palm, webOS (as it was then) was new, unique, fresh and, dare I say, ‘cool’? The mobile operating system was going to be the answer to Palm’s dire situation: Smartphones, headed by Apple’s iPhone, were all the rage. Sales of dedicated devices fell off the face of the earth and everyone, seemingly, wanted a smartphone, preferably the iPhone.  Companies scrambled to introduce a new phone.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, Blackberry and Palm all had phones out. Palm’s success with the Centro was waning.  Sales of its stand alone PDA devices were non-existent and things were beginning to look grim.

At some point, in 2008, they began work on webOS.  At its core was an embedded Linux kernel.  It’s user interface layer, however, was radically different.  It and other parts of the OS were built with web development technologies such as javascript, HTML 5, CSS and xml.  There were API’s written native to the hardware, but most of the OS was done with these web technologies. This was meant to keep it simple.  Palm introduced a clever and nice looking device to run the new operating system: the Palm Pre.  The Pre looked like a smoothPalmPixi pebble, something you could easily jump across water.  It was elegant.  It was also flawed.

The phone was released in July of 2009 on the Sprint network.  Some say that was it’s death knell and, I’d say that was close to spot on.  Sprint, already in dire straits itself, did little to support the phone.  They did not have the iPhone, so one would think they would have supported it better, but, they did not. With in the year, the Pre was available on AT&T and Verizon. The Pre 2 and Palm Pixi were released, but, by now, Palm was in trouble.

A seeming white knight came hopping along in the guise of HP. HP, run by Mark Hurd at the time, was going to do a lot with the Palm division.  A tablet was going to come out, webOS was going to be put into everything from Printers to PC’s and phones.  PC’s would dual boot webOS and Windows 7.  Things looked great.  For a very short time, that is.

Mark Hurd was ousted in a controversy of his own doing. Leo Apothekar was brought in and he immediately made a terrible decision:  He came from the services industry and decided that HP should be one too.  He was going to split HP’s hardware out, kill Palm and the PC division would be sold.  Gone, almost as soon as it came out, was the HP Palm Slate. The tablet ran webOS 3.0 and was fantastic.  When the cancellation was announced, fire sales ensued.  The price went from well over $300 to $99.  Sales were so brisk, that HP decided to do a second production run-using the parts left over from the first-and those sold out as well.  And, with that, the Palm company was dead.  So were the grandiose ideas for webOS.

Along the way, however, Apothekar was ousted and Meg Whitman came in to save HP. She announced that while Palm as hardware was no more, the webOS would continue.  Weeks later, she announced that HP would open source the Operating System and, possibly, use it as well.

weboswatchIn 2013, it was announced that LG (Lucky Goldstar for all of you who remember Goldstar from the 80’s) would purchase the IP and source to the operating system from HP.  LG wanted to use the OS in its televisions, which they have done.  In 2015, LG showed off a SmartWatch that uses a flavor of WebOS (as it is now spelled) as the core os for its new wearables.  This watch is, in effect, a phone. So, WebOS has come full circle: from phone, to tablet, to television to watch/phone.  The odd tale of the operating system that refuses to die is just getting good.

Stay tuned, I’m sure more weird things will happen.

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