Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

Summary: With HP's discontinuation of the TouchPad, Veer, Pixi and Pre, who is the next likely suitor for the WebOS?

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So I predict that the HP TouchPad will fail to sell... oh wait a minute. I did that already.

Sigh.

Look, I didn't kill the TouchPad! It's... not... my... fault! I know I said some very bad things, like... that HP was incompetent... and their engineering efforts were awful... But I didn't really mean it, okay? HP, will you bring the TouchPad back now? I'm sorry!!!! I'M SORRY!!!!!!!! Aggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!

'Fer crying out loud, you don't spend $1.2 Billion on a mobile hardware and software company, enter an extremely competitive market, and not expect to crack a few eggs with your first product.

And if Apotheker felt that HP didn't need to commit to at least five years to establish a leading brand then... well... hell, maybe the company really is wacked.

So the TouchPad, the Pre, the Pixi and the Veer is dead. Let's get over it. Let's move on.

The question then remains: what happens to WebOS?

Well, my Editor-in-Chief, Larry Dignan has effectively outlined the "what" and the "how" in the equation.

What remains is the "who".

I kind of feel like I've written this story before. Why... I wrote something almost exactly like this. Yesterday.

In fact I wrote something almost exactly like that one, but on Monday.

It's failed mobile technology Groundhog Day!!!! Rise and shine campers, and don't forget to put your booties on because its COOOOOOLLLLLLD OUTSIDE!

Sorry. I fully realize it's the end of August.  I'm just having my regular end of week nervous breakdown.

Sooooo... companies different. But similar issues. Let's go down the list of possibilities.

Option 1: HP Licenses the technology

Well, with HP canning the TouchPad, Pre and Veer this certainly makes my argument for partnering with a company like Amazon a lot more relevant than it was on Monday.

HP now has a homeless App Store for WebOS apps with effectively no devices to run them on, as it will cease development on TouchPad, Pre and Veer. Sure, there are maybe several hundred thousand or as much as a million or two WebOS devices in circulation, but total active WebOS devices? Not a lot.

The remaining 200,000-300,000 TouchPads in channel circulation are being liquidated. While this would seem to increase the size of the WebOS ecosystem significantly, until some definitive statements are to be made about who is going to run that App Store, or if the software is going to be licensed at all, WebOS 3rd-party development is almost certainly going to come to a screeching halt.

Licensing the technology of course would involve keeping the legacy Palm infrastructure alive as far as facilities and employees in order to continue to develop the OS. But now that the company has announced its intention to sell of their PC business, the likelihood of WebOS being used in other HP consumer products is probably nil.

I mean, they could put it in multifunction printer devices, but with no HP PCs to integrate it with, I'm not sure that still makes sense to have the "Palm" infrastructure and employees to continue to do work on an OS with no future at the company.

Would HP really keep Palm and WebOS around to license and produce no actual hardware just to run an App Store? That sounds like... so Google-ey. Or Microsoftish. You know, just like the old Google, before Monday. Before Googarola. Before the Empire...

So, licensing. It's not out of the question. But now that this has become an absolute disaster for the company, the idea is a lot less sexy than it used to be, because it now looks like HP can't do anything right, let alone start a software licensing business for WebOS. WebSource! Wait, that sounds kind of familiar too.

Option 2: HP sells off WebOS and the Palm division

While HP might initially try to make a mobile software licensing business out of WebOS, a la PalmSource or Android or even Windows Mobile, I'm going to put a stick in the ground here and say that Leo Apotheker really wants to wipe his hands of this meshuggener thing that Mark Hurd came up with and sell off the whole megilla.

So who are our prime candidates here? Well, you've got Research in Motion. Yeah, you heard me right.

Look, the QNX thing just ain't working for RIM. The PlayBook OS is a difficult platform to develop for. It's missing key functionality, such as integrated email and calendaring and personal information managment. And it has almost no apps to speak of.

WebOS, on the other hand, is much easier to develop for. It has a ton of integrated functionality already. And WebOS does have apps. Sure, we're not talking iOS or Android level in the hundreds of thousands, but it has a few thousand decent apps.

Could you imagine RIM's hardware quality and engineering paired with WebOS on a BlackBerry? It would be awesome.

Still, I don't think a purchase of the WebOS assets by RIM can save the company at this juncture. It's unlikely with the current management structure that they would switch horses on operating systems, even if they ported Luna to the QNX kernel making WebOS a full RTOS.

Maybe if RIM did it a year or two ago, before HP jumped in to the fray. But not now.

The best choice in my opinion is actually Amazon. Why? Because the company wants to get into the tablet and color e-reader business. And in light of the Motorola Mobility purchase, I think the likelihood of being able to stand out in the Android space is probably a lot riskier now than it was before.

And unlike HP, I actually think Amazon could make a go of WebOS, if it reserved it for its own products and curated an Appstore for the OS.

It is also worth mentioning that Jonathan "Ruby" Rubinstein, former CEO of Palm and SVP of HP's mobile division/personal systems group that is being shuttered currently sits on the board of directors of Amazon.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if back-channel communication between HP and Amazon was already occurring to discuss licensing or outright purchase of the Palm assets.

The next two candidates are obvious, Samsung and HTC. Both of which could definitely go for having the intellectual property and patents of Palm to make their own branded phones with.

However, in my experience with most Asian companies and how they work with developer communities, I think that they'd completely fail at such efforts to run the WebOS App Store and generate interest in developing software. But they could buy WebOS and Palm just for the patent portfolio and scrap everything.

That would be horrible.

Final Candidate? Oracle. WebOS supports Java technologies and if Larry Ellison really wants to make a go at Google, I could see him doing it. For spite. And because his buddy came up with the whole wacky idea of buying Palm at HP in the first place.

Why wouldn't he want it? Like, he could use it as the operating system to power his Iron Man suit. Or use the patents to sue more people.

"O-Phones". Sure. Could happen.

Option 3: Open Source Tax Writeoff and Palm Physical Asset Divestiture

This option actually falls under the "Perlow, are you out of your freaking mind" category, but bear with me for a second.

Assuming HP does sell WebOS, it's going to take it at a loss. HP purchased Palm for $1.2 billion. It's not going to get $1.2 billion for the Palm/WebOS division. It's lucky to get half that amount of money.

What if... HP donated WebOS to say, The Apache Foundation? As a Tax Write-off?

I'm sure HP's legion of accountants and bean counters could come up with some creative accounting and valuation for the intellectual property elements of WebOS -- the source code, the patents, the development hosting and build environments, et cetera.

Perhaps value that as a billion dollar plus gift to the Open Source Community, so that there would be a full-blown community-supported smartphone and tablet OS to compete with Android. The good will that HP would generate would be unfathomable.

As to the actual Sunnyvale, CA Palm campus and the employees that work in the mobile products division, well, you obviously can't donate those. You'd have to find them new jobs within HP and re-purpose that campus, or those real estate assets would have to be either divested or leased out.

I guarantee you that between the write-off and selling the actual physical assets, the company might be able to do better in terms of recouping its losses than in an all-out asset sale to a competitor.

The employees in this scenario would almost certainly be let go if HP couldn't find other employment for them within the company. But hey, HP, if you Open Source all of WebOS, it's possible that folks like Ruby and his team might decide to take the Open Source version of that and go do something creative with it.

Maybe under this scenario, the spirit of Palm might not actually die.

Should Hewlett-Packard license WebOS, Sell off the IP and the assets, or Open Source it as a charitable donation? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

[poll id="26"]

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

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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39 comments
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  • You know what?

    I'm actually proud of you for this article.

    I still don't forgive you for the libel against webOS Internals, but this article did make me respect your opinion a little more.

    Instead of writing it off as completely dead like some ignorant journalists are right now, you're offering up ways it could LIVE.

    Your last suggestion, though extremely unlikely, is a staggering and intuitive one that I've not read anywhere else. I can always hope, right?

    Jason, thanks for this. Seriously.
    IGNTNUNLMTD
    • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

      @IGNTNUNLMTD Thanks.
      jperlow
    • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

      @IGNTNUNLMTD:

      Agreed. There are some good, honest, realistic points made in the article. My 1st gut reaction to the HP webOS news what that maybe RIM consider an acquisition of the Palm assets along with webOS rights. Both the webOS and BBOS seemed to be in a similar pattern...not as widely accepted in the market & by consumers as expected. The easiest way to keep them both alive would be to "quickly" swap their base OS with the Android OS and offer webOS & BBOS as included apps to run "on top" of the base OS. This would get more HP, Palm, BB devices in the hands of the consumers where they could gradually improve their OS as consumers get more accustomed to them. But it's just a thought --- be like everybody else & then slip in a new OS platform that can be tweaked over time while not making consumers chose a completely different (less popular) base OS.
      jlt0x
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    You make a great point w/ RIM, yeah, I'm interested to see QNX, but I think you're right... WebOS on RIM would be a far bigger hit.

    Plus, why not? it's not like RIM has released QNX yet, looked at ~1 month's worth of sales , then decided to ditch it (Like HP just did, and MS' Kin) ...and at $500 million that would be a pretty good bargain. That just might keep RIM relevant for the next decade?

    Amazon would be nice as well.

    One thing you hit dead on, HP mgmt is very much wacked. Total disconnect from the Board of Directors to the real world. Like I commented on Ed's blog, whatever these guys are smoking, I sure would like to have some.
    UrNotPayingAttention
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    QNX is miles ahead of WebOS in performance and the messaging subsystem will come.

    Amazon won't touch this for a tablet but they might for an e-reader like the Nook Color.

    Open Source Would be ideal because Android could make use of the patents and the two could actually converge into an even better platform.

    Of course there is always the option of a completely seperate Open Source System but would it really take off?
    slickjim
    • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

      @Peter Perry
      If Google buys that, they will be tied their hands for 10 years with DoJ supervision for sure. Remember Microsoft Anti Trust Case. Since it was Microsoft, it was able to coup up because they had 2 major cash cows at that time. But here in the case of Google, it is Search Engine and with hands tied and OEMs starting to defect because of Goog/Mob integration, who knows what happens next. I would not invite risk when already a major FTC probe which could lead into AntiTrust going on.
      Ram U
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    I wonder is it so crazy to think about MS buying WebOS from HP for their IP & patents? Use the cool UI in WP7 (with the IP & patents in hand, it's easy to replicate the UI on the surface in the .NET platform) make it integrate well with Zune! MS already has a good market place, I don't think their tile based UI is really working well though! They surely need a better approach. So, I think if they combine the bright parts they may come up with a great platform and license it to the hardware manufacturers. Then, that would be a great device I would be buying in a heart-beat! What do you guys think?
    omt66
    • You have completely missed the mark with Microsofts Metro UI

      The new user interface created by Microsoft has received rave reviews, read below before spouting incorrect data:
      Response

      Response to Metro has been generally positive. Engadget said "Microsoft continues its push towards big, big typography here, providing a sophisticated, neatly designed layout that's almost as functional as it is attractive." CNET complimented the Metro design, saying "it's a bit more daring and informal than the tight, sterile icon grids and Rolodex menus of the iPhone and iPod Touch." [5]
      hocarlos
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    +100. Very good post indeed.
    Ram U
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    Interesting article. I don't think HP could get even 20 cents on the dollar for selling off Palm/WebOS/TouchPad. In the eyes of consumers, the Palm brand is now a double failure.
    terry flores
    • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

      @terry flores speak for yourself! There's nothing wrong with webOS and even the Pre3 that a company that has a little ingenuity and a little marketing sense could fix! HP has neither! The think selling in mobile space is like selling printer. This is 2011! HP had no vision and no patience. How long did they actaully own the WebOS product> How many products did they actually bring to market? HP is just a OLD company with an OLD mindset.

      Those of us who actually have WebOS devices will be hard pressed to find a phone with half the innovation the of WebOS. The messaging features and synery are unmatched!
      kajun58
  • Better Question: who wants to Buy a WebOS device now?

    burnt several times already even if another company builds them consumers might be worried they will die again and they might end up again with a end of line, no support device.<br><br>Even if they sell WebOS to some company, it'll take a while to sort out the whole mess (look Rim and QNX: months and months already and stil no QNX phone, maybe next year... ), meanwhile it's competitors like Apple are racing further ahead, a few months or even a couple of years in tech time is an AGE. <br><br>by the time someone buys it and gets devices running WebOS will be a quaint dinosaur. By that time many people would already own iPads and locked in to the Apple eco system. So who would want to buy a WebOS device?
    Davewrite
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    Lol at the Larry Ellison scenario! He hates HP and is whacked enough to buy it and make it successful just to prove that Apotheker is a bonehead!

    Good 1
    lqr_up_frnt
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    HP has just killed one of the most promising platforms. Launch and kill??? Who's running the company???

    Suddenly I'm glad RIM has two CEO's :))))
    SinfoCOMAR
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    Amazon won't buy it and and they shouldn't. They've already made their bed with Android and their forthcoming tablets.
    djlong
    • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

      @djlong I thought Barnes & Noble had an Android based Color Nook but Amazon still hadn't launched a colour Kindle. Has Amazon announced or launched an Android-based colour Kindle, or did I miss something?

      The only reason I haven't bought a Kindle is because I'm waiting some something in colour and B&N is US-only. I'd love to see a colour Kindle based on webOS, and I hope it a couple of other million people feel the same than Amazon might step in.
      CRMAddict
      • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

        @CRMAddict
        No Kindle Color (yet) buy there is an Amazon App Store for Android apps. I'd guess that's what's meant by 'made their bed with Android.'
        bunkport
  • wow nice call Perlow

    all your idea rock
    but one thing for sure this situation is a game changer.
    who ever buy this even at rebate if played well could become the forth wheel of this crazy wagon .

    If RIM in a desperate move choose to jump in wow .... that could be lethal
    Quebec-french
  • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

    The opportunities to save Web OS are large. Since now Google has bought Motorola, other Android parthners like HTC and Samsung won't have the IP, patents of source code and other advantages Motorola has for newer devices. HTC, Sony Ericsson and LG would find more WebOS much more attractive than Android, so HP could sell their WebOS and all related patents and intelectual property to these companies, so that each smartphone company owns the rights of the OS and doesn't need to pay any royalities, at the end, Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson and LG could be making more profits with WebOS than with Android.
    Gabriel Hernandez
    • RE: Palm. HP. Who owns WebOS next?

      @Gabriel Hernandez
      This scenario seems like reinventing the wheel, the original wheel being Linux/Android. If webOS were licensed to multiple manufacturers or even donated to the OS community then there would be two disjointed fragmented OS's and neither would have the mass appeal that a good stable one manufacturer with its proprietary OS. Isn't that why Apple is so successful? Mind you I'm a Linux user but at times am frustrated by the multiplicity of distros and would like to see more consolidation, less fragmentation.
      bunkport