One year ago, HP cancelled webOS hardware and everything changed
August 17, 2011 was a weird day. The day prior the HP Pre3 became available in the UK with nary an announcement to herald its arrival. The 17th saw the surprise release of the white 64GB TouchPad in France, again with no announcement, not even a press release. If was a confusing day, but a pretty good one once HP figured out what was going on in Europe.
The next day was devastating for the webOS community: HP CEO Leo Apotheker announced plans to explore splitting HP into two companies, one focused on enterprise services and the other on less-profitable consumer hardware, and that just 49 days after the HP TouchPad had launched the entire webOS product line was being cancelled.
Unsurprisingly, the webOS community took the news poorly. Our favorite mobile operating system, one that had been purchased by HP as part of Palm by just over a year prior, was in effect snuffed out with a press release by the company that was supposed to save webOS from oblivion, the company that was supposed to enhance webOS and spread it across a multitude of platforms. We raged, we vented, and a year later that day is still referred to as the Leopocalypse.
The move was a punch in the gut to not just the webOS community, but the mobile community at large. While Android and iOS kept chugging along, the fact that a deep-pocketed technology behemoth like HP was unable or unwilling to put up with the costs of developing and maintaining its own mobile operating system and hardware sent chills through the community. If HP couldn't do it, what chance did any other upstart operating system have?
We knew at the time that HP's decision to kill webOS hardware was incredibly shortsighted and driven by risk-averse corporate leadership. It was, to put it bluntly, one of the greatest blunders in the short history of mobile technology. HP squandered an opportunity to secure the future of their business, and now, even under the leadership of new CEO Meg Whitman, HP continues to pay the price on both the stock market and in retail for the disastrous leadership of Apotheker.
As for webOS, it took another four months for a plan to be announced. After exploring the possibility of selling the assets of webOS for upwards of a billion dollars, HP found nobody willing to buy at their desired price, and opted instead to open source the operating system. It's taken several months to get to this point, with the first beta of the refreshed Open webOS due out later this month.
A year after webOS took a bullet to the head at the hands of Apotheker, the operating system is still facing a murky future. Open webOS will be fully open source and available to all to install, but at this point it's unknown what devices will be able to run the OS and its advanced Linux kernel. It's unknown what HP intends to do with the spin-off of the webOS Global Business Unit as a new cloud- and user experience-focused company named Gram. And it's unknown if HP, or anybody else, will ever take a gamble at making new webOS devices.
A year later, the webOS community is likewise still damaged and confused. We've all seen it on the webOS Nation forums and across the web and social networks - people are leaving webOS and talking about it less and less every day. Only a dedicated corps of users are the type willing to buy a device with the sole intent of installing an unsupported operating system on it, and that's not a big enough group to sustain webOS as a legitimate contender in the mobile space. Developers likewise have moved away from webOS, with fewer new apps joining the App Catalog and existing apps being left to languish on the vine.
It's been one hell of a year for webOS and we're leaving this year with more questions than we entered. We don't know what's coming up, and with the way things have been so far we're hesitant to even hazard a guess. The one thing we can be sure of is that the webOS community will still endure. We hear it all the time from those that have moved on to other devices - they still miss webOS and wish they could install it on their iPhone or Galaxy or Lumia device. webOS continues to be a unique gem in the mobile operating space. It's still forward-thinking in many ways and still has, in our not that humble opinion, the best multitasking and notifications interfaces on the market, 1317 days after it was first revealed with the Palm Pre and 365 days after the entire webOS world was turned upside down.