Editorial: HP running out of second chances with webOS

It’s August 5th, a little over one month since the release of the HP TouchPad. Announced in February, there has been a slow march of hype surrounding the first tablet with webOS. We’ve seen this before with the original Pre launch. This time was going to be different. It was also an opportunity for HP to flex their marketing muscle beyond that of the cash-strapped Palm. Despite their best efforts, it hasn’t translated into an acceptable sales number. In what can be seen only as a last ditch effort, today we have seen a plethora of deep discounts. Woot, normally reserved for products that are on their way out, is one of many including HP themselves offering $100 plus off the HP TouchPad. Surely, this isn’t what HP management meant when they said the TouchPad would be number 1 plus. What’s happened since the February introduction of these new products and where do they take webOS from here?

HP webOS second chances

Their first product, the HP Veer (see our Veer 4G review), was released in May and officials from the company called it a “soft-launch”. That’s code for no advertising and little to no awareness of the release. Prior to the HP TouchPad release in July, there was an uptick in advertising, featuring the new campaigns with Manny Pacquiao, Amanda Cosgrove and Russell Brand. When the TouchPad hit, the campaigns promoting webOS and specifically the TouchPad, went into high gear. This was the “scale” Jon Rubinstein and fans of the platform felt was sorely needed. Over their history, Palm has had several rise from the ashes moments. The usually unforgiving technology market has provided them with a never ending supply of second chances.

With HP betting heavily on the TouchPad, it was released to lukewarm reviews. A software update seemed to address some of the faults, but there are still large gaps remaining causing the TouchPad to be a difficult sell at retail. Still no document editing. Still no Netflix. Improvements to the lag issue have been made, but after two years, there is still no GPU acceleration. These are all software related and don’t take into account the lackluster hardware. No surge of apps in the App Catalog and no signs of that happening on the horizon. The self-imposed fragmentation of the platform hasn’t helped. The lack of apps was something we addressed weeks prior to the launch. Post launch, HP’s Stephen DeWitt who heads up the webOS global business unit was still claiming that “We have all of the key apps out, and we’re going to have a ton more every day.

The problems facing HP are not isolated to the TouchPad. There is no new flagship webOS phone available at retail. The Veer is a niche phone, akin to the HTC Status. Even if it were successful, it’s not the smash hit needed to bring the platform much needed users. The Centro strategy no longer applies to the current smartphone market. The Pre 3 is still listed as coming this summer. It’s not coming to Sprint at all. Most webOS enthusiasts are also Sprint customers, some of which have jumped to the green robot, despite their immense love of webOS. Releasing the TouchPad prior to or not in unison with the HP Pre 3 was a mistake, but it’s entirely possible that carriers didn’t want the Pre 3. If you are looking to increase your user base, it’s easier to do so with a $199 phone versus a $500 tablet. This is the first summer in recent history when Apple has not released a new iPhone. The window of opportunity for HP was there for the taking. If and when the Pre 3 is released, it will be forced to face the juggernaut that is an iPhone 5 and possibly new low-cost iPhone. It’s just a matter of time before we see the Droid Bionic on Verizon, another huge competitor. Microsoft also plans to have a strong fall push with the release of new phones running the Windows Phone Mango update. By the time the Pre 3 hits the streets, it will effectively be a phone that is six months old, facing a slew of heavy competition.

HP faces the same challenges that Palm has over the previous two years. The App Catalog isn’t flourishing. Palm has tried contests, but it hasn’t worked at the level needed to spark any sort of serious interest from developers. Developers are waiting for users. Users are waiting for apps. It’s the catch 22 facing HP. The lifeline of webOS has been it’s superior multitasking and notifications. Those are not enough to entice the mainstream consumer. It remains to be seen if price breaks will be enough to generate the sales needed to build the user base. How will these price breaks affect the profitability of webOS for HP? Will HP be willing to accept little to no profit on hardware?

It’s imperative that HP deliver the Pre 3 post-haste and must come to the realization that webOS products can no longer command premium pricing. A late summer release of the Pre 3 priced at $199 (with a 2-year agreement) is not going to turn the tide. A platform with so much promise is running out of second chances.


  1. For me its more of a issue with hardware than apps. HP continues Palm’s dumb move of creating phones with small screens & fixed keyboards. If they would just make a phone with the same form factor as the iPhone or any other Andorid phone, ie high resolution slate style phone, they would have a seller. This in turn would bring back the developers.

  2. While I am in no way clinging to webOS no matter what (just got a nexus s 4g a few days ago) I do think it’s silly for people to point out the discounting of the Touchpad as a bad thing.

    Discounting is a traditional strategy for HP all across its spectrum. It doesn’t make a good sign of poor anything for the Touchpad because HP simply isn’t averse to using discounts and putting products far around the market (so you can see discounts for multiple HP products from multiple sources either concurrently or in quick succession.)

    HP is implementing a classic price discrimination strategy as well. What people are upset about is that price discrimination in the tech sphere (as opposed to airlines, say) is very visible, and it “hurts ” early adopters. HP captures the most profit from early adopters but can easily afford to city costs to capture other Marky segments later.

    I won’t defend other aspects of HP, but the pricing and marketing complaints are overwrought.

  3. I agree about running out of second chances. I’m still using my Pre (minus), but it sounds like Sprint won’t be releasing any WebOS phones soon, so if they offer the iPhone, I’ll reluctantly switch to that.

    I love the multitasking on the Touchpad, but it still desperately needs office editing app(s) and a good Twitter app. The slow trickle of new apps has been disappointing.

  4. No Pre3 on Sprint means the end of the road for me. Which is a shame, there is so much I love about webOS (and the Touchstone! Going back to plugging my phone in seems archaic..) but I’m not going to pay $20+ more a month to switch carriers again just for the Pre3, and still have HP be dragging their feet the whole time. And the ‘make it right’ offer was an insult compared to this weekend’s sale which says a lot.

  5. You are spot on, and quite frankly, many of us saw this coming months ago. The length of time it took HP to release anything was already a bad omen, and as you said, it’s now August(!) and there is still no Pre 3 launch date. And when it does launch it will be an old design, poor hardware, a slow CPU running a buggy OS.

    Not only does it fall way short of an iPhone 4, but the iPhone 5 will be out by then, making the Pre 3 simply archaic. I don’t know who would want one, even if it was free.

    As for me, I’m an Apple fan who is one because of my experience with Apple, not because I’m a blind sheep. I own a 3 year old macbook which is the best computer I’ve ever used; I had an iPhione 3G for 2.5 years and it was awesome, and I currently have a rooted HTC Wildfire running Cyanogenmod ROM,

    I can tell you from experience that Android is total rubbish and that webOS could clean the floor with it if HP knew what they were doing, and if they knew how to design and market quality products.

    But Apple’s engineering, quality and service are so exceptional that I’m tossing my Wildfire for the iPhone 5 and in 2 weeks I plan to get an iPad 2.

    Which brings me to your point about apps for TouchPad: the lack of apps is a HUGE deficit to the TouchPad because these tablet (and smartphone) devices are not half as appealing without them. The thing that makes a smartphone “smart” is the ability to run apps, so no apps = no interest.

    As I said, I plan to get an iPad 2 which I’ve been saving for and already I’ve been on the App Store choosing iPad apps and adding them to my wish list so that when I get the iPad, I can buy and install them. I don’t even have the device and I’m already choosing apps!! That’s how important apps are and that is why the TouchPad will have a tough time selling.

    When a regular buyer wants a tablet and walks into a store he will look at the Android tablets, TouchPad and iPad. After playing with them a little he will ask what apps are available and/or what he can do with a tablet that should make him buy one. The salesman will tell him about the 65000 apps for iPad, he will tell him about the hundred or so apps for Android, and then he’ll tell him about the 5 or 10 apps for TouchPad.

    Anybody want to guess which one he’ll choose? Exactly…the iPad and if he is anti-Apple for whatever reason, he’ll go with Android, but he won’t even consider the TouchPad.

    HP needs to take drastic action to get devs making apps (i.e. pay them to do so!!) or develop the apps themselves with permission (e.g. Netflix, Pandora, Documents to Go etc…) Also, if HP are so tight with MS, why on earth didn’t they ask them to make a MS Office suite of apps, or at least get licensed to develop them themselves????

    HP are stupid. They only know the pc market and have no idea what innovation is, since all they do is sell boxes with Windows software installed basically. That requires no development or innovation from them, and it shows with how they handle webOS….

    RIP webOS….

  6. Realist1 says:

    The sky won’t fall for HP if the pre3 doesn’t come out ASAP. 75% of the market is non-smartphone users. That’s HP’s primary audience, although they will obviously want to pick up a few existing smartphone users (and they will). Everybody acts as if the pre3 doesn’t come out this month, the platform is dead. If it were Palm, yes, HP has the money and muscle to push their devices into the market. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take some deep breaths.

  7. Again, HP has blown it. Totally blown it. Many HP executives should have their heads rolled. The window of opportunity ofr this phone has come and gone. WebOs had great potential if HP knew what the hell they were doing, but clearly, they did not. I agree with most of the above. The new iPhone5 (with a 4 inch screen reportedly), a cheaper iPhone, new Android phones, and the Windows Mango platform will all make this Pre3 phone a thing of the past and a phone that is already way behind the competition. Also, marketing and technology are moving toward intergration of tablets, phones, and desk tops (or lap tops) and Windows and Apple will have the leg up on the competition in this regard. Seemless integration and functionality is Apples mainstay and Windows has learned this the hard way. Android/Google has there issues/problems with lawsuits now w Apple and a highly fragmented world for quality control. Blackberry will go the way of the dinosaur if their new phones don’t hit homeruns. WebOs had a real chance of being in the top three systems used by the masses as technology further integrates these hardware platforms (and i think HP still thinks this is possible if it can put WebOs on all of its machines and license this out to other companies) but the way HP is run as a supposedly forward thinking company, I highly doubt it. RIP Pre3. SALES WILL BE PITIFUL.

  8. The Pre won’t make a difference at all.

    Only the people who want Tap To Share are interested in it. No one else is.

    HP’s TV ads for the TouchPad are on par with the Borg Queen ads for the original Pre. Instead of being basic and explanatory, they’re hollow, vapid flash. Like an inept kid trying to be cool.

  9. The only reason I cling to my pre original (even though this is prob the 5th refurb since the actual original) is the physical keyboard that slides down, not to the side.

    Apps are one thing, but 90% of what I use my phone for is email and SMS. Virtual keyboards are pretty but I like to be able to type and not have to keep my face glued to the screen. esp while walking. If the BB’s that are coming out are all the hype they claim, I may switch to them until webos gets its .. together. I’ve been a webos fan from the start.. but even I have my limits..

  10. Gabriel Unger says:

    This article is pretty much spot-on. An accurate breakdown of the situation HPalm is in right now. I have a Pixi Plus – my first Palm phone and my first real smartphone – and the fact that I’ve fallen in love with webOS after two months means something. I want the Pre3 to be great. I want to be able to keep buying webOS devices and feel like I am spending my money on a product that has a future. It’s sad to see that right now, the future of webOS is pretty bleak.

  11. I just returned my Nexus S 4g today and went back to my broken Pre minus. There was so much that I missed about webOS like cards, real multitasking, gestures, screenshots, the keyboard.. The Nexus was so buggy my apps wouldn’t update because there was not enough space, it would randomly reset and so many other issues. HP needs to forget about the Pre3 with it’s current specs and release a super phone. Then get it out to the market quickly. If that means letting other companies lease the software then so be it.

  12. Joe Shmoe says:

    While you have some valid thoughts, you’re wrong about Android. Claiming that “I can tell you from experience that Android is total rubbish” while having a HTC Wildfire shows how little experience you have, and how limited your knowledge is. The Wildfire has a 528 MHz proc, 384 MB of RAM, and a 3.2″ HVGA screen. That’s the hardware configuration of the G1, the first Android phone ever. If you claimed to have had a great phone like an Evo 4G, Galaxy S, Infuse 4G, Droid X or something like that I’d take your opinion with a grain of salt, but give you your opinion. That’s like me judging the iPhone 4 by claiming to have owned an iPhone 2G. Your opinion is flawed, but you’re an Apple fanatic, so I can’t give you any benefit of the doubt anyways.

  13. I’ve always loved Palm. I’ve had them since maybe 12 years ago, until 3 years ago when my Palm Device didn’t work with 64-bit laptop and I couldn’t sync anymore… I bit the bullet and got an iPhone. I do love my iPhone, but… I still believe that the Palm is absolutely great as a calendar device etc. Now, with the TouchPad coming out, I’ve been watching it and the reviews for several weeks, and I am 100% sure that I will get it. Just waiting for the 4G version, because I am worried that the wi-fi only will limit me a bit. I think the Palm based OS is really easy to use, and very intuitive, and I just cannot justify to buy an iPad, which is like an overgrown version of the iPhone.

  14. @Suzanna – If an iPad is an oversized version of a phone, what is the Touchpad? The iPad, as well as other tablets, do have uses for more than just phone calls. Small businesses benefit greatly from both, school students are blessed nowadays to have access to tablets as opposed to books.

    I still want a Pre 3 simply for the fact that I’ve never really liked hardware keyboards except for the Pre (and the Sprint Pre was my first smartphone). I’ll buy the iPhone 5 because Apple is my bread and butter and helps me make a lot of money (buying phones off contract has never bothered me), but I’ll still get a Pre 3 just for the face that the nostalgia will be awesome.

  15. Marc Love says:

    Well written article and sadly for a webOS fan, all the points you’ve made are true.

    I’m definitely tempted to jump over to Android. I considered Apple – while their hardware is incredible and their OS is so very, very polished, they always tend to be a few steps behind in terms of features: multi-tasking and notifications took way too long to implement – I was frustrated waiting and I didn’t even have an iPhone so I’d struggle as an owner.

    Android, is shockingly unpolished based on my experience playing around on it (my brother-in-law owns a Samsung Galaxy S II), but it’s absolutely packed to the rafters with features and there seems to be an app for almost anything.

    Features and apps are what matter to me and a polish elegant UI is a bonus (albeit a massive bonus if you’re a webOS user!), so on that basis Android is where my interest lies right now. Come on hp! Make me change my mind!

  16. webOS is probably not going to make it at all, even though until the release of iOS 5 its still a leap-ahead user experience. If any company makes a superior phone OS and enters the market today, they face incredibly overwhelming odds trying to compete with established ecosystems like Android and iOS. Only companies with lots of resources and a willingness to forge ahead for years can even consider it. HP has the resources, but they have not shown the capability and willingness. So developers and consumers are scared off because they fell flat.

    The ONLY way to re-energize developers and consumers is to marry up with an incredibly strong hardware maker and shoot for an OS upgrade that will blow minds. License or sell the OS to RIMM, Samsung, LG, HTC or Motorola. Stay away from the iPad market. You shot your foot and its time to salvage the smartphone market. Maybe you will have to layer webOS on Android somehow, or find some legal way to run Android apps on webOS, so you can have an instant app library. Maybe webOS’s only remaining shot is to be an Android layer/competitor to MotoBlur and HTC Sense instead of a ground up OS.

    Its too bad, because the best OS got squandered.

  17. I love my original (now Smithsonian eligible) pre and webOS generally, but I can wait only so long for an upgrade. HP, what’s the word? Are we going to be able to get the pre 3 in the U.S. or not? Announcing a new phone, then staying stone silent for months about it’s introduction date, not only doesn’t increase your user base, it tends to infuriate your existing user base. Not a good, or smart, marketing strategy. Too bad. I had much higher hopes when HP acquired Palm.

  18. I had an original pre for 2 years, the hardware was absolute junk, the os is unmatched by anything I’ve seen. I now have an iPhone 4, if the pre 3 were available I would trade the iPhone in for it today. The problem hp has now is keeping up in a market where u can’t afford to fall behind. There’s no reason why web os isn’t a big hit, if it crashes then the idiots at the companies that market and sell it are to blame

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