If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

Summary: There is a lot to like about webOS, but it is not the perfect mobile OS and neither Palm or HP can seem to launch it on modern hardware.


It's a bit amusing to read on Twitter and around the web all of the people stating that webOS is the best mobile operating system and yet we see that HP is giving up on the hardware and leaving the OS in uncertainty. I understand that there are strong feelings about HP's strategy and agree with many that HP is giving in too soon. While I think webOS does have many strengths, I am not sold that it is the best mobile operating system and think if it really was then we would have seen some success with it over the last couple of years.

We were all quite enthusiastic back during CES 2009 when Palm announced webOS and the Palm Pre, but Palm took their time getting their first Pre out to consumers and then just released it on Sprint to start. Palm only released a few webOS-powered phones and in my opinion the hardware was sub-par and did not match the power and fluidity of the OS.

I think webOS is awesome for the Synergy support with multiple cloud and online service integration, is killer at multi-tasking (unless you get too many cards open when it crashes), has an excellent universal search client in Just Type, makes enjoying photos easy with service integration (such as Facebook), is a messaging powerhouse, and the apps that it does have are generally of good quality.

However, Palm used to be the king of personal information management (PIM) and took a few steps back with webOS when they left their roots and just provided basic calendar, contacts, and task support with no Office editing or creation support. I wrote a post on the weakness of the Palm webOS Calendar app in 2009 and unfortunately those same issues are present today in the Calendar. I can't believe we still don't see an Agenda view on webOS devices and it is discouraging to see Palm/HP do so well with service integration and then leave the basics behind.

I also found webOS to lag at times and as James pointed out new users need to understand the device will likely be slow and unresponsive for a couple of days as all of the cloud services sync up and get configured on the TouchPad. This should have been fixed by Palm/HP or a notice made to new users during the setup process.

We see something near 7,000 apps for webOS after 2+ years while Windows Phone 7 is nearing 30,000 and even RIM has 15,000+ for BlackBerry smartphones. webOS had a LOT of potential, but after 2+ years this potential was never fully realized and may be left to the enthusiast community to carry the torch. Palm/HP never even really registered on any smartphone market share data, except to fall into the Other category. There was quite a community for the Newton back in the day and the TouchPad may suffer the same fate now that HP dropped it.

I will keep my TouchPad around (I paid $325 for it from a Craigslist seller back when that was a steal right before the prices dropped like a rock) and likely give it to my daughters to use for web browsing, Facebook usage, and Angry Birds since that is just about all it is good for now that HP is backing down from the platform.

Topics: Mobile OS, Hewlett-Packard, Mobility, Operating Systems

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

    No developer support = no eco-system = no compelling reason to buy it over the iPad.
    • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

      @rwalrond Agreed. I was on an early developer call during rollout and there were only 4 people on the call. No fan fare or hype.
  • not surprised

    no proxy support!?
    slow to boot up!
  • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

    It's a bit too late to even consider a webOS now. Apple controls the iOS for iPad and iPhones. Google controls the same for Android Powered devices. The major problems facing any company to develop a replacement iOS is going to be difficult at best.

    1.) Steve Jobs will have to let you access the secret sauce of the iPhone iPad BIOS on the chips running on them so a developer can even make a replacement / alternative iOS run on them. Fat chance that is ever going to happen.

    2.) Also Rans. Nobody is every going to capture the sizzle of Apple's iOS. Remember the BeOS (BeBox Operating System) for the Macintosh? This failed, too. IBM's OS WARP? Another failure.

    Hello... McFly..... is anybody in there?

    Success + Failure Leave Clues. So sayeth great life coach guru, --Anthony Robbins.

    We live in a society today where there are (2) operating systems for Apple iDevices, then there's Android for Motorola powered SmartPhones. And since Google has bought Motorola, they now control the chips, hardware and the Operating System.

    It remains doubtful that Google or Apple will ever open up the BIOs on the chips that let 3rd party developers ever develop a replacement OS for their iDevices. Because then there is too much confusion over hardware and operating systems.

    I buy an iPhone or iPad and I have to CHOOSE between genuine Apple iOS or some "me-too, BeBox BeOS" sort of LOOKS like Apple iOS?

    I doubt this will ever happen.
  • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

    You probably wonder why Betamax, Vincent Van Gogh or just about any other technically better stuff or person didn't get what they deserve at the time too.

    Throughout our history what we did was thrive on Mediocracy. We don't need best stuff, what we needed is passible "good enough stuffs" for the most of the time.
    • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

      @Samic guess that explains your post
    • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

      @Samic "Mediocracy" Really? At least you could spell passably with "good enough stuffs" spelling. Wow!
      • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

        @2Drinks, @MikeyrInFL

        I think 'mediocracy' is a FANTASTIC word! From Oxford's English Dictionary: Government by the mediocre; a system within which mediocrity is rewarded.

        And if it WASN'T on OED, then it SHOULD have been!
  • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

    If HP had turned off the logging and not crippled the 1.5Ghz dual core processor (underclocked to 1.2Ghz) it would have helped the masses like the product better. But for $99 it is not bad, a 50GB box account, decent browser and a lot of good basic apps (hopefully Netflix would launch but maybe not although there is still support for WebOS). If the Office program enables editing docs instead of reading then this will be a good $99 multi-year product, especially if Android is ported over.
  • I don't buy the assumption of the article

    The assumption behind this article is that if a product is technologically more advanced and sophisticated then it is guaranteed to be the most successful product on the market.

    There is really no evidence to support that assumption, in fact the history of consumer electronics products is the history of technologically superior products being trounced by less advanced competitors......it is easy to provide examples.

    VHS beat out the technogically superior Beta format.

    The Colecovision and Intellivision game consoles were light years ahead of the Atari 2600.

    The original Nintendo Entertainment System beat the technologically superior Sega Master System.

    Tivo has a tiny market share compared to lesser DVR brands.

    Hell, it's a cliche that iPods have fewer features and options than just about any other brand of Mp3 player.

    I could go on and on. If anything, it is difficult to find examples of where a technologically superior product actually WON.
    Doctor Demento
    • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

      @Doctor Demento This is generally true since volume sales usually comes down to is price. Consumers are price sensitive. Windows won because it could be found in cheaper computers from multiple OEM's even if Apple (to me) can make some of the best computer and a desktop OS in the world. This is happening similar to what Android is doing to iPhone. While we see charts of iPhone 4 being the best-selling based on sales from singular devices, Android is still #1 among mobile OSes. And at the end, it always boils down to OS sales vs OS sales. Nobody talks about a MacBook Pro selling better than Sony VAIO, do they? It is about Microsoft beating Apple in the 1990's with their Windows.<br><br>I never equal popularity or sales = quality. If that is the case, The Spice Girls are better than Black Sabbath and Nirvana for selling more records. Or Avatar is the greatest movie ever. I think Apple has the best ecosystem and app support. But they don't have the best mobile OS in the world anymore. QNX and webOS are superior and you will see Apple take cues from them just like you see Apple copy the jailbreak dev community. Most of iOS5's new features were ripped off from JB apps or other OSes.
  • Some say the same about OS X?

    You know some say the same about Apple's OS X or Linux or some other OS. It depends on how consumers accept it and how its sold to them. Much of Apple's success is its almost flawless introduction of OS X on a Intel based machine. Until that time OS X certainly had its share of issues. Linux also had its share. Just as any product Web OS simply was never on the right hardware at the right time with the right marketing.
  • Matthew... how long you been doing this gig??

    seriously.. what does how good an OS is have to do with it's success? People go with what they know, unless the new thing is overwhelmingly better.. WebOS is good, but it is not overwhelmingly better than iOS... or even android.

    There are virtually no apps for it.. virtually no eccosytem.. it's not 2007 or 2010 anymore.. you can't start with no eccosytem.. those days are over.. for a tablet or phone to succeed it needs to have everything in place on day one.. it is competing with the iPad/iPhone of today.. why should anyone buy a subpar experience.. and it's really about experience not a device.. the device is your ticket to an eccosystem and an experience.. that's what apple is selling.. that's how they sell it.. people understand what they get with iOS.. almost everyone has and iPod of some sort, so almost everyone is invested in iTunes eccosystem to at least the extent already.. Apple has a name for quality and ease of use.. HP and android doesn't have that, iPads are known as the real thing.. TouchPads and Android Tabs are looked at as cheap knockoff and they cost the same so why not spend the $50 extra and get the real thing instead of the RC Cola imitation?

    this isn't rocket science here.. it's not the device.. it's the experience.. WebOS's is vastly inferior to iOS's.. that's why it doesn't sell..

    we know the price tag that will get these non-iPads to sell in big number.. $99 and the good thing is the device doesn't need to match the iPad in every respect.. people know this is a dead end product and they won't get the same sort of use they will get from an iPad and still went for it.. hell i ordered one.. it surfs the net, it does email, it plays media, even with no future upgrades it's worth $100.. non-iPads need to be priced sub $200 to sell above that.. not going to happen in big number.. they need get realistic.. dumb down the devices and sell them at a reasonable price.. sub $200.. people will go for that.. Apple has the deluxe $500+ tablet market sewn up.. going head to head there is a death wish.. just ask HP..
    • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

      @doctorSpoc You are going on a banter about ecosystems and apps here. Not OS vs OS or UI vs UI. People who have used WebOS and even RIM's QNX extensively could make a case that both are better than iOS and Android. I would even go far to say MeeGo took some of the elements of iOS and WP7 and meshed the two very well. iOS and Android will likely copy some of webOS' aspects since Matias Duarte is now with Android and Rich Dellinger is now with iOS. Even webOS' notification system is still superior to iOS5. Never equate popularity vs which one is better. Years from now, iOS and Android will have similar multitasking. iOS still stuck in static icons. QNX can already play Flash live in the background. And where did this great multitasking aspect start with? Palm's webOS card system followed by RIM's QNX. Nomore static icons and opening and closing an app to check something. I hate that Apple dictates the pace and price points when tablets to me are just giant iPod touches and becoming an overpriced fad. Real computers have far more potential at making it better. Similar to this app fad with so many counter-productive uses and time wasters. Look at the Apple Store. Mostly people playing games. The most popular apps are games. At some point, everybody will have a burnout with them all and will start going back to the core messaging basics and essential apps that BlackBerry phones provides. The rest is just overkill. For a company known to be about being a minimalist, Apple sure knows how to build up app clutter.
      • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?


        So how do you feel about United using 11,000 "toys" or the latest "Fad" to get you safely from point A to point B.


        Don't blink, technology just might leave you behind.
      • No one cares about the crap you just barfed out there...

        @Savor.. you can go on and on.. but people are getting on with their lives.. surfing on the sofa.. doing puzzels, reading books and drawing with their kids.. watching movies etc.. etc.. no one care about the crap you're talking about here.. iPad outsell all other tablets 20 to 1.. no on cares.. they are too busy living their lives and for many iPads bring enjoyment and enough utility/value to warrant their purchase.. it's as simple as that.. it's not about the device.. it's about an experience, utility and value.. about going with a brand that you trust.. you might not like it.. but that's what Apple brings to the table.. people know they are a getting when the go with Apple.. and they appreciate what Apple brings to the table.. end of story.. all the rest is just bs.. in fact he more you talk about specs and multitasking (which iOS has had from day one, and iOS 4.0 had for 3rd party apps over a year ago) you just serve to alienate your potential customers ever more.. most of the people buying these things are no the propellor heads you find reading tech blogs.. they are just regular people who don't give a rat's behind about this stuff.. they just want a convenient way to do do their stuff and have a little fun doing it..
      • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

        @Savor <br>It is the overall experience. Look at the past. Yes iOS is not the BEST OS. SO, get over it. Do I get my mother an iPAD or something else? Which will be supported tomorrow? Which will have the APPS? Which one will her neighbors will have so they can help? I could go on and on. The point is like the doctor says, it is the ecosystem. Until something comes the is significantly better (say DVDs compared the VHS) iPADS will be leading. (That is my forcast nothing is ever for certain.) I am hoping AMAZON can do an upset but...
  • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

    WebOS was better. The hardware and app support wasn't. No apps and poor hardware = poor sales.
  • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

    It is not the Operating System but the Apps that count. Any fool knows that.
    • RE: If webOS is the perfect mobile OS, why can't it succeed?

      OS, Apps and Hype are three necessary ingredients. Look at WP7 now. It is great OS, many apps are available but there is no hype. No hype - no sales. Does not matter how good it is. People just do not care.