LG committed to open source webOS development, HP to pivot cloud services towards enterprise
Following up on the surprise news this morning that LG is buying HP's webOS division, we were left with questions. How? Why? When? We spoke with HP SVP of webOS Martin Risau and LG North America VP of Smart TV Sam Chang about why LG purchased webOS, what they're planning on doing with it, and what exactly HP is doing here as well.
As we reported back in October (much to the chagrin of HP and LG), the two companies were working together for several months to produce a webOS-powered smart TV for LG. Chang said that "during this time we [LG] were very impressed with the technology, but also the people behind it. That's what really drove this transaction." The 'people behind it' are indeed an important part of webOS, and adding them to LG's roster brings a lot of talent and experience with webOS.
Separately, our sources tell us that there was an all-hands meeting at webOS GBU/Gram HQ in Sunnyvale where the entire staff was told that they all still have jobs, and those whose jobs are moving to LG were given offer letters to join the company with their current title and salary, though the benefits package offered by LG is apparently a bit better than that of HP. They were told they have until March 1st to decide whether or not to go along with LG's new webOS smart TV endeavours.
The cloud services division of webOS will be staying with HP, however. Based on our last read on the divisions within the webOS GBU/Gram, the cloud services group is roughly one-third to one-half of the total employees, which currently number around two hundred. Risau said that HP was keeping "bring your own device" corporate IT plans in mind, helping the "corporate CIO support all of those devices via a front-end app catalog so that everybody can bring whatever device - Apple device, webOS device, Android device - so our cloud services, as they are, can offer private app catalogs to enterprises so that corporate CIO can support all of those devices."
To that end, even though stewardship of the Open webOS and Enyo framework open source projects is transferring to LG, HP intends to stay involved in the development of Enyo, as its cross-platform nature makes it ideally suited - Risau says it is "vital" - towards HP's enterprise app catalog dreams. According to Chang, LG also intends to continue on with the open source contributions to Open webOS, saying that "we firmly believe that open source is one of the best wast to integrate product from LG's perspective; look to see more open source activity on both webOS and Enyo."
Of course, as we noted earlier today, LG's focus is going to turn away from the mobile-oriented webOS with which we are familiar to something more suited towards their connected device empire ambitions. While obviously refusing to comment on specifics of what a webOS-powered LG smart TV will look like, Chang did say that while thanks to webOS's origin as a mobile-designed product, the webOS TV experience is "not going to be an identical experience, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that many elements in the technology of webOS will carry over." So don't be expecting gesture areas around the bezel of an LG TV.
LG does seem to get to a degree what webOS is about, with Chang commenting that "You've been seeing with devices like Chrome OS and Firefox OS where things are moving from apps to web, and we think a smart TV is a very good device to start because it's always connected." He said that we should expect to see the webOS smart TV launch very soon, though what exactly is meant by "very soon" is up in the air. The webOS employees at the all hands meeting were told that LG was aiming for a January launch at CES 2014, so "very soon" might mean different things to LG than it means to you and I.
The webOS smart TV isn't the only thing that LG has in mind for webOS; Chang said that LG's webOS "will touch other smart devices that LG produces over time." The key words in that are "smart devices" - while LG CTO Skott Ahn seemed unprepared for questioning about what exactly LG was planning to do with webOS, Chang was very specific in stating that LG's intentions for webOS are towards their smart device portfolio. That means not smartphones and not tablets.
To LG, a smart devices is "any device that has a certain level of continued powered intelligence and has internet connectivity", and while a smartphone or tablet might technically fit that bill, LG's smart devices are typically of a more stationary nature. Like televisions and refrigerators (though that refrigerator would need an internet connection and an integrated interactive display to qualify as a smart device). There's still a small sliver of hope that maybe someday LG might consider possibly trying out webOS on a mobile device, but we wouldn't count on it. Or a toaster.
LG's webOS smart TV could be impressive, however. Chang said that LG intends to combine webOS and existing webOS cloud services from HP with their own current smart TV cloud services, which right now include an app store, unified content search across, and speech integration. While some of that duplicates what's available in webOS, combined it could create a compelling and powerful television experience.
All of that's assuming you even want a smart TV. So far, the television industry has been able to claim massive sales of smart TVs, though that's only by virtue of them integrating their smart TV platforms into an expanding range of their portfolios. But usage of smart TVs doesn't seem to have taken off as well as sales. The majority of consumers globally still use their television in a rather old-fashioned way, opting to simply watch the channel they've selected, the movie they've purchased or downloaded via Netflix, or that show they recorded with the DVR a few days back.
Interacting with the television, whether to send posts to Twitter or check out what your Facebook friends think of the show hasn't proven to be a big selling point. Many have embraced the "second screen" approach, going instead for a smartphone or tablet companion app/experience for the TV watching. What approach LG's going to take with webOS smart TVs we aren't yet certain, though we'd hope they go for both and offer on-screen and second-device interactivity options.
There's still plenty more to learn over the coming months with regards to LG's plans for webOS. While we're still worried for the future of mobile webOS and this community, we're not quite as concerned as we were before. But only time will tell if LG and HP can follow through on all of the words spoken today.