Just face the facts everyone: WebOS is pretty much dead. There’s been a lot of chatter on the net in the last 24 hours about the fate and future potential of WebOS. And though you’ll probably hate me for saying it, I hate to break it to you but it’s time for a wake up call to face the facts (and reality): Palm and WebOS are dead. Period. And I’m not saying because I’m trolling, I’m not saying it because I want to ruin anyone’s weekend… I’m saying it because that’s precisely the way it is.
Those hopes of WebOS being licensed out to another company, or being bought out by HTC or Samsung or Google? Probably just a dream or thoughts manifested from folks who drank one too many beers last night. WebOS has already failed twice: Once in the hands of Palm, and this time under the HP umbrella. I think that really says something about WebOS and where it belongs: In the dusty “obsolete” drawer, never to be seen or heard from again… just like its predecessor, PalmOS. The fact that it has failed twice before in a short gap of less than 3 years will really scare off investors of companies who could be potential buyers.
WebOS has never been that appealing to the average Joe, except to a small community of Palm loyalists, which doesn’t spell out ‘big blockbuster success’… the important thing for smartphones is to attract the large crowds because THAT is the market that makes you money. Palm didn’t market it effectively enough but HP came along and seemed to have done the wrong thing: they did the opposite things for their EliteBook business laptops and WebOS devices. Let me elaborate:
- For whatever reason it was, HP decided to try to make their 2011 EliteBook models look as appealing as possible to the masses with that ‘MacBook esque’ redesign, funky 16:9 displays (because businessmen, CAD designers, engineers and specialists in industries want to watch movies on their Mobile Workstations?) and general dumbing down of the EliteBooks in terms of design and even minor differences which, they should have realized, will NOT go overlooked by serious users when they should have listened to the EliteBook user base who want substance over style and function over form. As an EliteBook user myself, I really couldn’t care less if my EliteBook had “Beats Audio” (because serious users tend not to fall for marketing garbage!) or that bling shiny backlit HP logo on the lid. What we really wanted was DreamColor IPS displays deployed across the EliteBook line, better heat management and more quality control, more flexibility and performance.
- Conversely, they seemed to have tried to cater to the small group of legacy/Palm fans by making tiny tweaks to WebOS and trying to encourage app development… but not much else. That, of course, wasn’t enough to make a difference in trying to get WebOS to the top. Simply put, they had to make huge changes to the OS and market it more for general consumers to buy it. Things like “true” multitasking with app “cards” or a neater notifications system, were never good enough reasons for regular folks to buy a HP WebOS device over a more powerful phone running iOS, Android or Windows Phone. That, and HP failed to have any ‘flagship’ superphone which might have given WebOS a fighting chance to survive.
Had they swapped strategies: Listen to the small userbase for their business products and try to cater to the masses for consumer products (eg Smartphones!), things would likely be different today.
Then there’s the blame game and I do not deny that HP made a bad choice by acquiring Palm. The morning I read about HP’s purchase of Palm, I facepalmed (Palm was dying back then) and silently doubted the ability to make Palm and WebOS a success. Nope, let’s make it clear: It’s not HP’s fault that Palm is a failure, but they are at fault for acquiring Palm in the first place! It was a waste of $1.2 billion which HP could have jolly well used to revive and improve the iPAQ line. HP makes weird decisions: in 2006 they were one of the market leaders in the smartphone industry (which I know, it’s hard to believe now that we’re in 2011) but we were already seeing HP getting kind of sluggish in coming up with new smartphone models… I wrote about all that here.
HP was given a chance to revive the iPAQ last February when Microsoft listed them as one of their “then-to-be-launched Windows Phone 7″ partners, that I even wrote an in-depth analysis and strategy flow about it. HP would later drop out of Microsoft’s Windows Phone party list and buy Palm just a few months down the road. Palm was essentially a dead company walking during the time it got sold HP… no one should have ever touched Palm and just let them die. For whatever reason the acquisition was made, HP’s choice to buy Palm, combined with existing sluggishness in developing their existing iPAQ smartphone line AND insufficient efforts to make WebOS a success essentially meant that the Palm acquisition did nothing to revive the brand or OS, but merely prolong its life by another painful few months before its eventual, impending and expected, death yesterday.
And what of the future? Nothing – there is none for WebOS. HP already chose to melt away the ‘Palm’ name over a year ago. If past performance is any indicator of future events, WebOS is just dead. Not a decade ago, HP bought over Compaq and that name was used more and more sparsely until it eventually disappeared from HP’s notebook naming convention in America (though some low end “HP Compaq” notebooks do continue to be sold in Europe and Asia; essentially rebranded versions of HP’s Pavilion g-series entry-level offerings). Then HP bought Rahul Sood’s VoodooPC gaming computer company… that name too was eventually quashed and never heard from again. Even worse, HP even stopped making gaming computers shortly after and the only thing that remains from VoodooPC now is the ‘Envy’ name you see with HP’s Envy notebooks.
WebOS’ fate, I predict, will be no different… the change has already begun and in a few months, WebOS would be nothing more than a mere memory, remembered only by Palm loyalists and the small group of fans.