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.

HP’s big moves to dump the personal computer and how to waste 1.2 billion dollars

HP announced this week that it was exiting the hardware business.  Almost, that is.  HP announced its intention to spin off the Personal Systems Group and to also discontinue the Palm hardware that it bought (for 1.2 billion US Dollars) last year. 

The Personal Systems Group is the division responsible for the computers.  Right now, HP is the worlds number one manufacturer of personal computers.  From desktops to laptops and all form factors in between, HP leads them all.  The quality may be in question, but the dominance is not.

HP stated that it wants to get into software and services, much like IBM has done, in a big way and have already started that journey with the purchase of Autonomy for ten billion-yes, 10 BILLION, US Dollars.  Autonomy provides infrastructure software and services for nearly 25,000 customers worldwide.

The divestiture of the hardware line would allow HP to concentrate its efforts on developing itself into a services company.

The discontinuation of the Palm line is not overly surprising.  When Leo Apotheker took over the realm of HP, the writing was on the wall. It was not his deal and never seemed to fully support it.  It seems the goal of having webOS in every device imaginable is now the thing of legend.  While HP has stated it is not abandoning webOS, what kind of future could the OS have?

The hardware line from Palm was weak and never took off and even with an HP fully behind it, it was going to face an uphill struggle.  With the ill-timed release of the TouchPad, the writing was on the wall.  HP, it seems, could not give them away.  Best Buy, reportedly, took an inventory of 270,000 TouchPads to sell, but could manage to sell only 25, 000 of the slate devices.

What this all means is still a big unknown but if you own a webOS device, I’d suggest getting an Android replacement or, if you can find one, a Windows Phone 7 device.  And when that HP computer needs to be replaced, buy a Dell or Acer.

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2011: the year of the tablet?

Maybe.  I’m not sure that it will be, but there are a slew of new and exciting tablets coming out over the next few months.  Among them, the webOS powered TouchPad from Palm/HP, the Xoom from Motorola, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the RIM/Blackberry Playbook and, of course, the just announced Apple iPad 2 (gee, what a clever name.)

The Samsung and Motorola devices are already out and the Blackberry and HP devices should be out sometime in the middle of the year-possibly too late to make any kind of difference outside of the business world (for the Blackberry device.)  Apple is bringing the iPad 2 to market on March 11.

Of all of the devices-and they all have some really nice features-the HP and Apple devices look the best in terms of features and usability.  HP’s acquisition of Palm gave it, perhaps, one of the best mobile platforms ever: webOS.  webOS is perfect for a tablet device. It was, like iOS in the iPad, designed from the ground up to be a finger friendly operating system.  Unlike Windows, which is keyboard and mouse centric, both iOS and webOS can be used strictly with your fingers and be productive. 

Other tablets, like the Xoom and Galaxy, use Android as the operating system but, unlike iOS and webOS, it was not designed to scale properly for tablet use and is not overly finger friendly. Still, devices using Android are compelling enough that they can be worthy competitors to Apple and iPad.

iPad 2 has enough new features to warrant its purchase even if you already own the original iPad.  While I am not as enamored by the forward and rear facing cameras as others, I can see the forward facing camera being useful for video conferencing when used with a stand (who would want to hold the bloody thing that long?)  The thinner and lighter device also features a gyroscope for better orientation detection, a dual core processor for faster and smoother operation, improved graphics performance and, shockingly, new accessories such as the ‘smart cover’ and new video cables that feature HDMI output that will mirror what ever is on the iPad 2 screen on your big screen television or monitor.  (This feature, part of the new iOS 4.3, will also work on the original iPad, once upgraded.)

touchpad1The TouchPad, from HP, is a 9.7 inch tablet running the webOS.  This nice looking device features a 1.2 gigahertz, dual core processor that is fast. At first glance, the device resembles an iPad.  The operating system, however, really shows the very different approaches that Apple and Palm took when developing the user interface layer.  webOS performs true multitasking, that is, you can start multiple apps and each app will continue to function, even when you are doing something else. With iPad, you are really just switching from one task to another with the task you leave simply stopping until you get back to it.  Some apps, like Pandora, are allowed to do certain things in the background, like play music. TouchPad also features a compass, gyroscope and accelerometer so it knows just where it is, relatively speaking. Resolution is 1024 by 768, same as the iPad and other similar devices. Audio is stereo out and stereo speakers are included.  Wireless charging is standard and uses the Touchstone charging system that the Pre uses.  Initially, only the Wi-Fi version will be available, but a 3g and 4g version will be available after release.  As nice as this seems, HP really needs to be aggressive with pricing.  It cannot cost more than the iPad and, really, needs to be cheaper. 

You can read more about TouchPad here.

I’m torn as to which device I would purchase. I already have an iPad and the Pandigital eReader, so I don’t need another but…the HP and iPad 2 are very tempting and the RIM Playbook looks awfully nice as well.  I would lean toward the TouchPad, but would have to see what the pricing is going to be before ruling out iPad 2.  (And don’t forget iPad 1, it is now $100(US) cheaper until inventory runs out.)

Oh, and where is Microsoft? They have a nice operating system in Windows Phone 7 but they have said that they will not be using that in a tablet device. Instead, they want to cram Windows 8 into phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, the Hadron Collider and anything else they can adapt it for, which is, in my opinion, a mistake. Looks like they have just ceded the market that they helped create. They really want to become a niche company it seems.

I’m off to play Angry Birds now.  Cheers.

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