HP Axes WebOS, and I Can’t Help But Feel Some Smug Satisfaction

WebOS Logo I’ve been debating writing this for a month now, going back and forth, and I finally decided to just do it. So, about a month ago HP announced they will axing WebOS. OK, OK, before you comment, I know, they announced they were killing off WebOS hardware.

In addition, HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.

No more TouchPads, no more Pres, Pixis, Veers, etc. They didn’t kill off the OS itself, technically, but right now it is in a deep coma and not looking well. It remains to be seen if it ever reappears on any phone or tablet devices, or if it ends up as an embedded OS in printers and the like, if even that. HP has talked of licensing it to other companies, or possibly even selling it, but who would buy? It seems like every time another company is rumored as a possibly suitor they rush to say “Not us!”, as if they’re afraid of being tainted by the thought.

WebOS is a two-time failure in the market. Palm couldn’t make a go of it alone, and their ‘savior’, HP, ended up throwing in the towel. Now the market is even more dominated by iOS and Android than when Palm first launched WebOS, or when HP gave it a second try. Anyone wanting to relaunch WebOS would need to spend enormous amounts of money on marketing to displace iOS and Android from the public consciousness. On top of that, Microsoft is poised to do just that to promote Windows Phone Mango. RIM, the long established smartphone vendor, is on a steady decline under the twin attack of iOS and Android.

I suspect that if any of the current players acquired WebOS from HP it would be mainly to beef up their patent portfolio with Palm’s patents – either to defend Android (Google), or attack it (Apple, RIM, Microsoft, etc.). And maybe incorporate choice bits of the platform into their own. But WebOS as a platform would be over and done.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking WebOS. I think it is a great operating system with a lot of clever design features. It is solid, stable, and loaded with features. It just had the misfortune of bad timing and poor management. If Palm had launched WebOS before Verizon launched the Droid and Android 2.0 they might have had a chance. If they hadn’t yoked themselves into a too-long exclusive agreement with a failing carrier (Sprint) they might’ve still had a fighting chance. But the reality is they were too late to market and the launch was under marketed and bungled, and by the time they hit other carriers Android was in full charge and iOS was well established. Palm didn’t have the money to effectively market WebOS against the two leaders. Neither did Sprint. Verizon was focused on Droid and wasn’t going to do much with WebOS. AT&T had iPhone and also wasn’t going to dilute that message. Sometimes good tech just doesn’t win in the market.

So why do I feel smug satisfaction? Because WebOS got me fired. Actually it was something I said on Sling Community about WebOS while I was working for Sling Media that got me fired from my position as a Beta Program Manager there. I deleted the post within days, and EchoStar has since purchased and shut down Sling Community itself, so I thought it was long gone. But I just had the inspiration to check Archive.org – and found the post:

January 26, 2009 6:26 PM

As has been pointed out, the actual development information hasn’t been released yet so it is premature to be talking about development. From what we have seen it looks like webOS is an all-new environment, so it would need an all-new SPM which would not be a small task. At this time we’re taking a wait and see approach to webOS. When it ships we’ll watch the adoption rate and decide if it warrants developing SPM for webOS or not. Keep in mind it has currently been announced for one device (the Pre) on one carrier (#3 and currently falling) so it remains to be seen if and when it appears on additional devices and carriers for the worldwide market and achieves a significant market share.

There has to be a business justification to invest the resources in developing the client. The next logical platform is Android, which we’re already taking a strong look at. Unlike webOS, Android already has multiple announced devices with commitments from several major device makers for even more, with carriers lined up world-wide. Remember that from our point of view it is the intersection of users with the platform *and* a Slingbox who are also interested in using SPM. Engineering resources aren’t free, so there has to be some return on investment.

Speaking for myself, I’m skeptical about webOS. I’m an old-time Palm OS user, I had a Palm IIIx, Visor Deluxe, Sony Clie NZ-90, Treo 650, and I still carry a Treo 680 as my personal phone. But because I’ve been following Palm for so long I’ve also been burned and disappointed too many times. I don’t have any faith left in Palm’s ability to execute and succeed after Palm OS 6 Cobalt, the PalmOne/Palm Source/Access mess, ALP, the idiotic Foleo, the interminable wait for Nova/webOS, etc. So they need to prove themselves to me all over again. Until I see webOS on multiple devices and carriers with a significant uptake I won’t really think of it differently than other proprietary phone platforms. It looks shiny and nice, but that’s not enough for me with Palm anymore.

-MegaZone, Sling Media Beta Manager
Slingbox PRO-HD w/TiVo Series3, Slingbox SOLO w/TiVo Pioneer DVR-810H, SPM Treo 680, SP WinXP
(I also run GizmoLovers.com)

That’s the post that cost me my job. Remember, it was made in the context of an ongoing forum thread of Sling Community members. But Dave Zatz spotted it and excerpted it in a post he made. (Let me interject right here that I consider Dave a friend and a colleague and when I see people blaming him for my being fired it bothers me. So don’t. I’m responsible for what I said.) Once Dave’s post went up it got picked up by Boy Genius Report, CNET, etc. Pieces of what I said were everywhere overnight, taken out of the original context. It sounded like I was making an official statement for the company, and that seems to be what upset the powers that be at EchoStar.

Dave’s post went up on January 31st, and I was fired the morning of February 2nd. Word had come down from somewhere on high that I was to be terminated as quickly as possible, no discussion. I’ve been laid off a couple of times, but that’s the only time in my professional career that I was fired. (I was fired once before, but that was when I worked the snack bar in college and I decided to see how long it would take them to fire me if I slacked off instead of just quitting. Several weeks, as it turned out.)

But look at what I wrote. This was after we saw WebOS and the Pre at CES, but before it actually launched. I think it was fairly prescient. Everything I expected, all of my concerns, came to pass. Launching a single device on Sprint turned out to be a disastrous move. Instead of the Pre & WebOS being a halo device to help turn Sprint’s fortunes around, Sprint turned out to be the albatross around the Pre’s neck. Sprint was in bad shape and couldn’t spend much to market the Pre, and Palm wasn’t exactly flush at the time either. Since they were trapped in an exclusive agreement Palm couldn’t take the Pre to another carrier, like Verizon, who had money and needed something to fight the iPhone. The Motorola Droid filled that gap and the Droid+Verizon partnership turned out to be everything Palm wanted, and needed, the Pre+Sprint partnership to be, but wasn’t. By the time the Pre was free of Sprint Verizon had no use for it. They picked it up but not so as you’d notice.

Of course, WebOS never did carve out more than a negligible market share and Sling Media never released a SlingPlayer Mobile for the platform. While they did support Android. In fact, as I wrote that post I had a T-Mobile G1 from Sling to play with to get a feel for Android as it was an upcoming project, after the then in progress iOS app. And that Treo 680 I mentioned as my personal phone? That was replaced by the Motorola Droid I still carry, which I picked up as soon as it launched. (And will probably be replaced by the Nexus/Droid/Samsung Prime later this year, if the rumors pan out.)

So yeah, everything I said was true and it all played out pretty much as I expected except for the second wind from HP, and even that just stretched things out. But it cost me my job. So I just wanted to say – I told you so.

And that’s where my smug satisfaction comes from.

So, this brings me to the site’s long hiatus. But that’ll be the next post…

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • David

    HP did not “axe” webOS, but the former CEO Apotheker halted hardware production; development on webOS (the OS) continues. And Apotheker wanted to halt ALL hardware production, not just webOS devices, by ending PC production, as well.

    Apotheker’s extremely poor decisions may be reversed now that Whitman is in charge. With the huge demand that resulted from the “fire sale,” the OS is now in the hands of a lot more people than before, meaning that webOS could be poised for huge growth. Other platforms have begun using features that debuted in webOS 3 years ago.

    Of the critiques I read of webOS, most deride the poor hardware or even the advertising. (The initial Pre TV ads will go down as possibly the worst product-launch ads since the Infiniti car brand.) Palm lacked the resources to properly launch webOS then it was controlled and tossed in the trash by a CEO who wanted to mothball his most profitable division. webOS is a great OS begging for intelligent and purposeful leadership.

    • Fanfoot

      Well, sort of.

      HP certainly planned to kill only the WebOS hardware, but the bungling miscommunication, recanting, recommunication, all can’t help the fact that WebOS is now dead.  It was on life support already given the mediocre sales.  And HP might want to continue development of the software for some reason they haven’t communicated.  The most obvious being they might sell the whole thing, including patents to somebody.  Who would probably still axe it and keep the patents.  Though they’ve bungled that as well, and it now doesn’t seem likely they’ll find a buyer.  Sorry, but WebOS is dead.

      They had mass layoffs in the hardware group already.  The software group is clearly rudderless and resumes are on the street.  I assume its only a matter of time before we see high profile defections to Apple or Android.  Put a cork in it.

      And the whole ‘blame the hardware’ thing.  I’ve seen the same posts as you, presumably inspired by communication from inside HP’s software group.  But I don’t think its true.  I think the OS is not very good.  Its got great design inspiration, but it isn’t executed well.  If you want more details read Macro Arment’s post:


      Let me quote just one line:

      “But looking back at the TouchPad’s reviews, they were almost universally
      in agreement that the software was just as mediocre as the hardware.”

      I think the world has moved on.  Android is still an option despite its poor early reception.  Google and all its partners will just keep chugging away.  RIM is badly damaged by early sales figures for their tablet, but their hardcore base might yet carve out a niche market for them.  And its clear now that Microsoft still has a shot, given the early reviews of Windows 8 and the new ARM support and the fact that Apple still owns the market at this point.  Nobody thinks WebOS has any shot any more.

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