Round Table: HP dumps webOS | webOS Nation

Round Table: HP dumps webOS

by Derek Kessler Thu, 18 Aug 2011 7:59 pm EDT

Welcome to Round Table, which is in fact not a table at all. Round Table is a continuing series on PreCentral where we pose a question to the staff and they provide their thoughts and insights. The question could be something simple like “what wallpaper do you have on your TouchPad?” or something a bit more complicated, like “who should take over webOS?” Or maybe we’ll just end up discussing the virtues of a white-colored Veer. Today, however, we have some very serious news to discuss and some rather strong emotions to vent: HP is done with webOS hardware and pretty much wants to get rid of webOS. After the break, we each sound off on the day’s developments.

Adam: Palm never had the money or scale to sell webOS to the public. HP did.  But they blew it. When I hear that sales did not meet their expectations or that the investment needed to make it a competitive OS in the mobile space would be too high, all I hear are excuses. The did no marketing for the Pre or Veer and released a buggy TouchPad that got an OTA update 1 month later and didn't start their marketing for almost 3 weeks. And if they are just realizing that it was going to take a large investment to be competitive, then they didn't think through the purchase of webOS. I didn't think anyone could do a worse job of selling webOS devices than Palm did, but I was wrong!

What they also did wrong was the communication of this information. Just like the news that the Pre and Pre+ was going to get webOS 2.0, they could have communicated this so much better. They have an amazing community who has followed webOS through some really tough times, and they just did not treat them like they should have. At this point, even if webOS does stay around, will the users who have been burned time and time again?  What about the developers?  Are any of them going to stick around? I really hope they do, but I just don't know if they will.  What does the future of webOS hold?  I have no idea. I am not going to jump ship just yet and I am going to hold on to my TouchPad, but my Pre2 needs an updated ASAP. It's buggy, my Yahoo email doesn't work anymore, and it likes to reset on it own every night. Will we see webOS 2.2 on the Pre2?  Will we even see the Pre3 at all?  I just wish we had some of these answers.  I guess we just have to "stay tuned" and will get some more answers "in the coming months".  For now, I am going to take a deep breath, relax, and remember this this is just a piece of technology. There are still some decent alternatives that I am sure I will come to like in the future, even if they are not webOS.  And I would also like to give a big thank you for all the developers both at Palm/HP and of applications for all the hard work they have put in over the last 2 years. Those are the people who we should feel the most sorry for.

Derek: HP failed webOS worse than Palm ever did.

This morning I was planning to write an editorial on how HP royally botched the launch of the Pre3 and the 64GB TouchPad. But as you can imagine, I never got around to that after everything that started this morning and culminated with HP dumping webOS hardware and looking for the best way to make money from the software. And while I’m filled with a dozen conflicting emotions right now (none of them good), I do need to step back and take a look at where everything went wrong.

Palm failed. There’s no question about that. But the reason they failed can be boiled down to one simple truth: they never had the money they needed to properly launch a new mobile operating system and device ecosystem. They had grand plans, a great operating system with enormous potential, and the right people to make it happen. What they didn’t have was the money to develop cutting edge hardware, train customer services reps at carriers, and properly market the devices, among many other things.

HP, on the other hand, had enough money to buy Palm a dozen times over. They simply didn’t have the balls to follow through with it (if you’ll pardon the crudness). HP should have known that it was going to take more than the TouchPad for webOS to catch on. They should have known that it’s cost Apple, HTC, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft billions of dollars to get where they are today in the mobile space. It wasn’t going to be easy, and clearly HP thought it would be.

The emotions coursing through me run the gamut from enraged to depressed to bewildered. How could HP do this? Not from the “how could they do this to me?” perspective (though that thought is running loose in my head as well), but how could HP abandon their ambitions after just one year? Because they could. Because new CEO Leo Apotheker is an enterprise software and services guy. I came out and said it a year ago, and even though Apotheker has made some encouraging statements, there was still that voice at the back of my head that was screaming that he wanted to refocus HP to more enterprise focused. And he’s done just that.

Companies like Apple do things because they want to and because they think that they might eventually be able to make money at it. There’s a reason they’re continuing on with the Apple TV even though it’s not some blockbuster success (and I don’t think they ever expected the iPhone and iPad to be as successful as they have been). HP, on the other hand, is all about the almighty stockholder. And to be fair, the vast majority of publicly traded companies are like that too. I guess I was wrong to expect HP to be different, to stick things out and spend the money needed for webOS to actually be a success.

Jonathan: Whatever ultimately happens, this is a horrendous blow to the webOS user and developer community. Granted, webOS was given an 18-month reprieve from execution last year when HP purchased Palm, but HP has failed even worse than did Palm. Palm at least had the excuse of limited financing, lack of scale and having to start from scratch in developing both webOS hardware and software. HP, which had the cash and the manufacturing and sales scale, bought an operating company, with existing and planned products and relationships, and proceeded to mismanage it if not into the ground then at least heading downward rapidly. It’s a stunning condemnation of HP, and no amount of blathering about “unmet expectations” can change that.

The future? Who the heck knows? For now, it appears the webOS software side will remain in operation, which is good news for our friends in Sunnyvale, but clearly the market for webOS apps just shut down. As for hardware, I have to wonder if this unexpected development might have been triggered by a call to HP from HTC or LG after the Google/Motorola announcement the other day, talking about new webOS hardware possibilities. It’s conceivable that HP, receiving such a call, could have jumped at the chance to rapidly unload the burden of webOS hardware design and sales while still seeing a chance to license and expand the software. I’m hoping so, for my own sake, since I don’t want to have to sacrifice efficiency and change how I work to pick another platform after my current hardware dies.

Riz: It's difficult to frame this news as anything but blindsiding, catastrophic and short sighted. 

Along with the unfulfilled promise of "scale" being the savior of webOS, there was always so much emphasis put on the value of having a vertically integrated mobile strategy. Well HP, it seems, is no Andrew Carnegie. While hope springs eternal for some licensing-based silver lining to this apocalyptic stormcloud, the message at this time is clear: That middle ground for HP as an "open" company running their own OS on their own hardware is gone. 

What's most frustrating for this writer is to see HP moving in the opposite direction from what has worked for the market leaders in this segment. Apple has been a standalone in mobile from day 1. Google, patent discussions aside, has also created this opportunity for themselves through the buyout of Motorola. Even beforehand El Goog espoused the merits of close coordination between hardware and software through it's Nexus program.

So at the end of the day, even with the hope that some bright, broadly-based licensing agreement that takes the fight to Microsoft for the 3rd spot is looming on the horizon, today marks the end of a dream.

Tim: It's been a year-long relationship with plenty of the usual ups-and-downs, arguments, make-up sessions and even a forgotten anniversary, but from the outside we all had hope for what the future held between webOS and HP. It came as a shock to many of us then, and even those who have been with the webOS development team from the first days back in 2009, that HP has decided to make that hard decision and dump webOS devices in the gutter. "It's not me, it's you." Or so they seem to say.

I'm frustrated. Knowing how much work that so many of us have put into this community and platform, only for the whim of a single company to raze it to the ground. Ok, so maybe it's not entirely that dramatic; the webOS Global Business Unit will continue on as a software development team within HP to bring the superior experience to PCs, refrigerators, printers and toasters. Those of us that want to see webOS succeed in any manner know the truth of the matter, though - it's going to take a whole lot of work to make any of this worthwhile to users, and that might not even be enough.

Is there any life left? Maybe. Developers can act with honor and dignity and continue supporting their app customers, fans can continue to look on with hope that the precepts laid forth by the great founders of webOS will continue on in a new generation of digital products, and we here at PreCentral can keep on sharing the latest news on the platform and get excited about whatever good things might be ahead of us. When you've hit the very bottom, there's nowhere left to go but up (or over to another platform).

So there you have it folks. We've unloaded from our chest, now we're going to go curl up with a stiff drink. We're certain you have plenty to add, and the comments are waiting below for you.