webOS Will Not Be Saved By Licensing

Bloodletting

Yesterday’s news that HP was ending support for webOS devices, was followed up by a story on This Is My Next that HP is “not walking away from webOS“. For webOS enthusiasts, it was the glimmer of hope that some hardware manufacturer will ride in on a white horse and save the platform. Like Palm before them, HP continued the tradition of feeding a silver lining to the webOS community. Don’t believe it.

When Palm put themselves up for sale, many saw it as an opportunity for a company like HP to make webOS relevant, providing the much needed investment in the platform and hardware. At that time, other suitors included HTC, a company with a rich history of making excellent smartphones. If HTC had purchased Palm, they would have brought their vast experience of mobile device manufacturing to the relationship. Plenty was made about the scale HP would bring to the table. That scale could be seen in the vast distribution network and marketing dollars. From an outsiders perspective, it appears as if HP allowed Palm to run; well like Palm. The Veer looks like a device that could quite possibly have been on the original 2009 roadmap layed out by Palm executives, right next to the Pre 3. There was a reason Palm was up for sale. They were not selling phones. The Pre, Pre Plus, Pixi and Pixi Plus were not successful. Developers were not flocking to the platform and the paltry selection of apps in the App Catalog paled in comparison to the App Store and the Android Market. Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 platform kicked off in November and it now boasts over 23,000 apps. Yet, HP purchased Palm and it was business as usual. HP acted as if they purchased a company that was selling a great number of phones, which was not the case. Sometime last July they made the decision to ramp up the Veer, Pre 2 and Pre 3. Did they believe that despite these phones not being very different from the previous releases, that marketing dollars and distribution would change their fate?

HP TouchPad fingerprints

They passed on CES and hosted a big event in February. The coming out party was more of the same. Nothing new and the promise of products “coming soon”. These products had Palm’s fingerprints all over them. Six months is a lifetime in mobile technology. Since that announcement, we’ve seen the iPad 2, a slew of Android phones and the forthcoming iPhone 5. Releasing the Pre 3 would have been akin to taking a knife to a gunfight. I don’t blame HP for halting production of the current products. The blame is on them for continuing with what was a failing strategy. Palm’s hardware was failing when HP bought them. It wasn’t distribution or poor marketing, although both would have helped during the initial launch of the Pre and soccer-Mom laced Pre Plus campaigns. Let’s not blame this all on hardware. The HP TouchPad boasted a very capable processor, yet early reviews revealed a laggy OS; one that has yet to offer GPU accelerated graphics throughout. It’s as if HP didn’t fully understand Palm’s place in the marketplace. Good potential, but plenty of work had to be done on both the hardware and software front.

Blinders

Ultimately, HP’s decision was likely influenced by wireless carriers lack of interest in supporting webOS. No one knows for sure, other than HP executives. I do know this. Carriers have no stake in webOS. They have a stake in selling phones and then having to support those phones. They sell a bucketload of phones powered by iOS and Android. RIM’s BlackBerry OS is long in the tooth, but it’s a familiar OS, one that is easy to support at the store level. Microsoft’s licensing of Windows Phone, allows them to have a team of OEM’s pitching their products. They also face the spector of carriers taking a pass should the OS not gain some traction once the Mango era gets underway this fall.

Herein lies the rub. Pick your favorite suitor. HTC, Samsung or even LG. If they license webOS, they face an uphill battle. Developer support will be nill following yesterdays bloodletting. The lackluster App Catalog will be effectively grinding to a halt. If they were to develop hardware to run webOS, it would be roughly 12-18 months away. What carrier is going to want to take a chance on webOS? Thus, why would any of the manufacturers listed above take that gamble? Android is free, at least for now. They have a very capable OS in Windows Phone, which has the full backing of Microsoft. Who will license webOS, when the company who owns it, was effectively saying that it cannot compete in today’s market. I think you know the answer.

Recommended reading: Dieter Bohn’s excellent editorial “HP failed webOS; what’s next for the platform?

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