Last Thursday HP decided to discontinue operations for webOS devices, performing the Japanese equivalent of seppuku on the TouchPad and webOS phones. It must be stated before proceeding that I am one of the few webOS fans who continued to support the platform even after it’s management change in 2010. Now that that’s out of the way shall we continue? The HP acquisition of Palm gave hope to die-hards and fans alike that their fantastic operating system would get proper hardware support. With Thursday’s announcement everything came full circle and that hope dwindled. While HP dangles webOS over our heads, the only potentially viable options left for the operating system would be licensing it to others or placing it in/on other, non-phone/tablet devices such as cars, printers and PC’s.
It’s hard to dismiss that the writing has been on the wall for quite some time now and perhaps the proof was in the proverbial pudding when HP CEO Leo Apotheker stated that HP has in fact been in talks with a “number of companies” when it came to licensing webOS. Bloomberg reported that “three people with knowledge of the discussions” say that Samsung was one of the companies and that the company is specifically interested in possibly using webOS for its Galaxy Tab tablets. webOS GBU (Global Business Unit) VP Stephen DeWitt adamantly stated at an all-hands meeting after the announcement, “We are not walking away from webOS,” further emphasizing that HP is desperately looking to keep development steady and look to license the OS.
Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS platforms hold a commanding dominance in the mobile space and are the current go-to platforms. With Microsoft’s Windows Phone in the mix and the yet to be determined future of Mozilla’s Boot-to-Gecko (B2G) on the horizon where would HP look to shop webOS? If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it is. Turn the clocks and calendars back to June 2011 and it should all start coming back. Nokia and Symbian. Like HP, Nokia purchased Symbian Ltd. the company responsible for the OS back in 2008 and quietly ran it into the ground. Exactly 3 years after the buyout in June 2008, Nokia sent Symbian packing to Accenture along with about 2,800 Nokia employees. Now as of October 2011, Accenture will provide Symbian software development and support services to Nokia through 2016.
Things seem to be lined up for a mirrored performance with HP. With the recent admittance that HP is looking to license their OS and the companies positioning to transition from a dominant computer manufacturer to predominately an enterprise software and services provider, the end goal could be to completely offload webOS to another company all together. The bridge to it all could be this licensing ploy. HP put down $1.2 billion when they acquired Palm in 2010, but on a press call CFO Cathie Lesjak made a rather disturbing statement “To make this investment a financial success would require significant investments over the next one to two years, creating risk without clear returns. Therefore we have decided to shut down operations around webOS devices and will be exploring strategic alternatives to optimize the value of the software platform and development capability.” It basically boils down to HP not willing to invest what’s needed into webOS to make it a truly competitive platform. Yes folks, essentially $1.2 billion dollars were put on the table for a year and four months investment in which it ultimately determined too risky to invest in.
Enter Microsoft. Brandon Watson, Microsoft’s senior director of Windows Phone 7 development, on Friday offered any published WebOS devs to jump ship via twitter. Watson cast out free phones, developer tools and training and reeled in reportedly 1,000 developer emails. Steve Ballmer knows all too well the importance of great developer support so it’s really no surprise to see Watson’s offer, who has been in full recruitment and marketing mode since the platforms launch. But would it be wise for webOS developers to switch teams and don the Microsoft team gear?
A benefit webOS developers could see in making the switch is Microsoft’s current support and investment into the Windows Phone platform. HP’s arid support for webOS pales in comparison to that of Microsoft’s, which can best be described as devout. On the flip side Windows Phone, continues to lose market share in a market that’s steadily growing which has to be of some concern. While the Windows Phone Marketplace has surpassed 30,000 apps in less than a year and more notably surpassed RIM’s blackberry World in total app count, the lack of market share and consumer adoption has to be a little alarming. The developers certainly wouldn’t want to leave one dying platform for another.
HP will be shopping webOS at some point if not already and while Microsoft is currently only interested in their developers there are other players that might be interested in acquiring the OS outright. Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Best Buy, ASUS and HTC all could make a bid to acquire webOS from HP and use the OS as their own.
Amazon with it’s forthcoming entry into the tablet market could really shake things up if it invested it’s services into it’s own OS rather than work with competitor Google and their Android OS. Amazon has a strong brand and it’s services connect with hundreds of millions of consumers everyday, it would actually benefit Amazon if they were able to control the experience offered completely and integrate those services (VOD, Music, Cloud storage, etc) into an OS. The same can be said for the others listed but Amazon, HTC and ASUS would presumably offer the best scenarios for a webOS acquisition. All three would be able to compliment the OS with excellent hardware, reputation and adequate research and development needed to compete successfully in the mobile space.
While the fate of webOS is still uncertain and looks bleaker every passing week there’s the scenario in which every webOS supporter dreads, an acquisition of Palm simply for their patents. This scenario of course would most likely result in the death of webOS and quite simply the stock piling of patents to further protect current investments. Why would anyone want Palm’s patents? Well, both Google and Apple tried to sue Palm over touchscreen smartphone patents and smartly decided to back off, patent 7,555,727 could have something to do with that. While that would add ammunition for other established players in the mobile arms race it would only signify the immediate departure of an OS that held so much promise but was crippled by less than stellar hardware and purchased by an even less than stellar company.