Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

Summary: With a commitment to Android well under way, purchasing HP's WebOS sounds a bit outlandish for Amazon. Or does it spell a path towards differentiation and unique value add?

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The web is abuzz today with rumors that Amazon might be interested in purchasing webOS, the smartphone and tablet mobile operating system that was at the core of HP's $1.2 billion Palm acquisition in 2010 and the foundation of the failed and cancelled HP TouchPad tablet computer.

It would be very simple to dismiss these rumors as pure flights of fancy, since Amazon only just announced their first Android-based tablet product, the Kindle Fire this week.

On the surface, it seems mutually exclusive to have both WebOS and Android development in Amazon's stable.

Or would it?

As I speculated back in May -- and ended up being proven nearly 100 percent correct on this week -- Amazon has forked the open source implementation of Android 2.3 Gingerbread and has added a custom usability layer on top of it in order to differentiate between existing Android tablets from competitors like Motorola, Samsung and HTC.

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What this has resulted in is an OS that can run Android apps, but still remains a uniquely Amazon user experience. Sure, the core of this thing is the Linux kernel, and it's got a Dalvik VM and has all the libraries that allow Android 2.3 NDK apps to run flawlessly, but the similarities end there.

Both WebOS and Android are based on the Linux kernel and various other open source libraries. The older generations of WebOS also incorporated Java-based technologies, just like Android does with Dalvik. So from a basic systems architecture standpoint, the two are actually very similar.

However, whereas Android 2.3 is a fully open source stack, everything other than the basic kernel and some things in the userspace in WebOS are completely closed, which includes the multi-tasking "Luna" UI that makes WebOS unique among mobile OSes.

There's no question that WebOS's user interface is excellent, and the multitasking is superior to Android's as it exists today in both Gingerbread 2.3.5 and Honeycomb 3.2.2. WebOS's Synergy platform for social media, instant messaging and email also gives it an edge over what exists in Android today.

What WebOS doesn't have is a wealth of applications, nor does it have the rich content delivery back-end that Amazon is putting behind Kindle Fire.

I haven't had a chance to look very closely at the first Kindle Fire yet. However, one of the things that I speculated on in my original "Kindlebread" piece was that Amazon would have to fill out "gaps" that exist between the Open Source version of Gingerbread and what actually ships in partner OEM Android devices, such as the Google Apps stack which includes GMail, Search, Google Talk, Google Calendar, contacts management, et cetera.

When I asked Amazon if Kindle Fire had native Email and Calendaring, I got the "There's an app for that" response. In other words -- it's considered 3rd party territory on their Appstore for now.

Purchasing WebOS would solve a lot of those problems. The Synergy stack would replace Google's "App Pack" which Kindle Fire is currently lacking and Amazon's engineers could work towards making their UI tie in both the WebOS multitasking, native WebOS applications and Android Dalvik apps.

This would create an entirely new, best-of-breed tablet operating system that would give you the best of both worlds -- excellent multitasking, native email and messaging/social media integration combined with robust Amazon services and content cloud, with the Amazon Appstore for Android.

And since Amazon has entered a patent licensing deal with Microsoft, Amazon can also integrate Synergy's messaging services with the Activesync protocol (Exchange) on their Android/WebOS hybrid without any fear of litigation whatsoever.

It's really not that hard to imagine. After all, RIM is putting Android compatibility into QNX, but their OS doesn't even have the benefit of sharing the same basic systems architecture. Making Android apps run on WebOS would be a much less difficult project than it actually sounds.

Would an Amazon purchase of WebOS from HP make sense? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Amazon, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Mobile OS, Operating Systems

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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37 comments
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  • What's wrong with the Kindle Fire?

    Has it failed in the marketplace?

    No?

    Then why should Amazon pay hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars to fix something that isn't broken?

    It makes no sense.
    toddybottom
    • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

      @toddybottom There's nothing wrong with it, but there is missing functionality that Amazon would otherwise have to spend a great deal of development effort on if they had to homebrew it themselves.

      Theres a number of other reasons why Amazon would want WebOS, and that includes a decent sized patent portfolio.
      jperlow
      • Sorry Jason... your hypothosis is just idiotic... to say the least..

        @jperlow.. as ToddyBottom states.. they have an OS that is everything they need it to be.. TODAY.. RIGHT NOW.. IT's complete.. gives a smooth end to end, tuned, easily understandable experience to users.. it meets their business needs as well perfectly.. and does not to cost them diddly squat.. just the front end development... vs buying WebOS for likely a Billion dollars or so.. integrating 100s of new employees into their org.. and WebOS is still not done.. it has never been done, even on the current released TouchPad and Pre's it's still a work in progress.. and it's not even what they want.. they'd need to pair it down just like they did to android.. WebOS is comparable to honeycomb, iOS etc.. THEY DON'T want an OS like that.. they want and produced an OS GUI that is tuned and streamlined for consumption.. pure and simple.. they stripped out all that crap from android.. so what, now they are supposed to spend billions of dollars and do the same to WebOS?? AGAIN! it just doesn't make any kind of sense.. it's completely unnecessary.. <br><br>did you think this out at all? this sounds like some kind of crazy brain fart or something.. ridiculous!
        doctorSpoc
      • It is pure marketing genus

        @jperlow

        when I first herd about the Kindle Fire I thought HP needs to jump all over that. I would allow HP to move in the direction it wants to me and give Amazon a great 3rd party OS that has already been well reviewed.

        Then I did some reserch on the Kindle Fire to decide if for the first time ever would I be willing to be an early adopter and buy on on release. The answer to that question is NO. the Kindle Fire OS IS incomplete if the fire is to be considered a true tablet computer over an internet media consumption device. It will need to be significantly upgrade to handle document creation, image management video and some other things before it will be more than just a vehicle for Amazon to sell more stuff.

        Yes HP's OS represents the best way forward and your article is quite well thought out.
        DarnellD
      • Amazon should buy AmigaOS

        @jperlow
        "Theres a number of other reasons why Amazon would want WebOS, and that includes a decent sized patent portfolio."

        That makes no sense at all. Why would they need WebOS to get Palm's patents? Couldn't they just buy the patents?
        Theli
    • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

      @toddybottom
      Like say, license to Microsoft?
      Samic
    • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

      @toddybottom

      WebOS has been in the mobile business along with Palm for a long time. They own more patents than Microsoft and Apple can count, let alone sue for.

      WebOS=Patent/Lawsuit immunity
      Fat Albert 1
  • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

    The other reason to buy it...

    Because of the initial devices which already exist, sold due to HP's "getting out of the OS market". All those $100 tablets sold for a loss, are in users hands now, and would be at the mercy of amazons future updates. (Not that this is a bad thing. Since HP is abandoning the devices completely. Like every other product they sell, after two years, expect no support. Now, if Amazon buys it... It WILL be supported until the machines die forever. Because that makes them money, unlike when HP sells something, it is just a dead-sale to an end-user.)
    JD_Mortal
  • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

    This articles make no sense when you think about the amount of "thinktank" which Amazon has created and put into the Android Amazon App Store, the now announced the Kindle, and the possible 10 inch tablet due rumored for 2012 Q1. Accomplishing all of that and then to start over again with WebOS sounds like a loss of investment for Amazon unless they were planning to gut pieces of WebOS for their Android fork but it would be so much easier and cheaper to just go with Meego & existing knowledge base.

    Side note the whole Android Dalvik VM apps - Android compatibility is myth, reviews about the software have been that its pretty much usable, so does Amazon really want to undertake making this software "usable" all in light of being able to run Android Apps on their own mobile operating system? :-\
    tosin.osinubi.tmo
    • Amazon has made the effort ...

      @tosin.osinubi.tmo@ ... to fork their base version of Android to distrguish itself from those other Android makers selling their devices at $499 so perhaps that have already thought of all that. For all we know, HP and Amazon have already been in talks.

      Amazon will not re-invent the wheel on a whim but they have gone to a lot of trouble to give themselves quite a bit of flexibility. I'd be really surprised if the Kindle Fire is not compatible with everything in their own Android Marketplace before the first Kindle Fire hits the streets - no matter whose UI it is based upon.
      M Wagner
  • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

    It does make sense for Amazon to buy WebOS... for the right price.

    If they have to pay even a fraction of HP's original $1.2 billion acquisition price, then just stick with Android.

    But if Amazon can obtain the rights to WebOS for, oh, let's arbitrarily say $100 million or less, then it may definitely be worth their while to own their own, fully functional, operating system.

    The question more importantly is, why are people mainly buying Kindle Fires today? Is it because it is an Amazon product, or because it is an Android product? My assumption is that most people are buying Kindles to own an inexpensive Android tablet, and could frankly care less who made it. That would mean that moving to WebOS could alienate future potential customers seeking an inexpensive Android device, unless they are fantastically successful at making the WebOS platform an appealing alternative.

    But HP couldn't do this, so why assume that Amazon could?
    natelan
    • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

      @natelan If they got it for half or even 3/4 of the original price it would still be worth the money for the patents alone.

      Most people buying Kindle Fires have no idea at all what Android is, nor do they care. They just know it comes from Amazon, that they are getting services, that it's an inexpensive tablet and that it has a Kindle brand. You're putting way too much thought into it.
      jperlow
      • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

        @jperlow Bingo! The target audience for the Fire is at least generally speaking not the croud that is reading this. If the existing attached patent portfolio is stong enough it could be worthwhile. If Amazon can switch underlying OSes and keep a consistent UI the end user could care less. The difference would appear as new features.
        Jarhead5811
    • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

      @natelan
      Because HP can't find it's way out of a paper bag.

      doctorSpoc say:
      "it has never been done, even on the current released TouchPad and Pre's it's still a work in progress.."

      I don't know what planet you are currently visiting, but my TouchPad worked great out of the box. I have used IPad, Android, and Blackberry Devices and WebOs blows them all away. HP is clueless, just look at their lame ad campaign.
      seatuck
    • RE: Amazon Fire Buyers are not tech savvy

      @natelan The vast majority of Fire buyers will buy the Fire because it's Amazon, not because it's an inexpensive quality Android device. It's a no-brainer for the ka-zillions of Amazon users that use the Amazon marketplace and take advantage of Amazon Prime, Kindle e-book fans, etc.

      That's not to say that Android tablet lovers won't be attracted to the platform, they certainly will. But it's not in Amazon's interest to target them as the primary market. If for no other reason than the device is being sold as a lost leader (ie. at or below cost) and Amazon's real motivation is to leverage their e-commerce ecosystem.

      Buyers that will strip away the Amazon layer and root it to the latest version of Android would be bad for Amazon, in fact you could make a case that Amazon will make it as difficult to mod the system as Apple does for IOS.

      My wife would love the Fire, she is their target market; non tech media consumer that buys lots of stuff from Amazon. I'm in the middle, a media consumer that buys lots of stuff from Amazon that is reasonably tech savvy. So yeah, we'll probably get one than fight over the changes I make to it!
      jjniss
    • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

      @natelan Amazon can do what HP couldn't. They can heavily subsidize their tablets banking on future profits based on content delivery. It's the same logic B&N used with the Nook Color and Amazon is currently using with the Fire. I would imagine tha Amazon has an entirely different end result in mind than the other tablet makers do. Any device they put out is, essentially, just a vehicle for their content and retail sales.
      Personally, I've always liked webOS and I'd love to see Amazon buy it, just for the sake of seeing it keep breathing.
      nlancaster1
    • The HP TouchPad firesale demonstrated ...

      @natelan ... that there is a lot of pent up demand for tablets (any tablets) sold at competitive prices. Customers are not clamoring for Android (at least not at $499 - at that price, they will buy an iPad) but, knowing nothing at all about WebOS, they laid down their $99 for a product HP had declared dead. Now, Amazon is gambling that that customers will lay down $199 for a more complete solution than the HP TouchPad. <br><br>It's a good gamble for Amazon and, with WebOS, it could be a great gamble - but your point is well taken that Amazon doesn't necessarily gain ENOUGH to buy WebOS at just any price. <br><br>The question for Amazon is how much is WebOS worth to them and the question for HP is whether they can recover enough of their WebOS investment to make it worth their while to sell it off now.
      M Wagner
  • This Sounds Like a Good Idea

    The WebOS interface is hands-down exceptional even in comparison to the others. If Amazon purchased WebOS and kept it going, then I think those other 500,000 people who purchased the TouchPad now become a pretty viable market. After all isn't Amazon losing $4 per Fire? Their strategy is to make profits from the content, and if they could port that content automatically to those 500k people with the Kindle/Amazon branding, it could possibly be well worth it. They would just have to keep support going for WebOS on the TP.
    maxtla99
    • You're partially right

      @maxtla99 .. but the real rubber hits the road when you think that the Amazon Fire range backed by WebOS can ultimately be the arch nemesis to the iPad the public have been longing for .. needed, in order to bring a serious contender and alternative - and the price competition the market is crying out for.<br><br>Picture this: a device that trumps the Apple with services and Cloud apps / app store(s) (think: social media, shopping, entertainment, unparralleled eBooks/ eZines catalog, for the typical metro crowd aged 15-30); integrated productivity apps & email & Wi-Fi capabilities (think: 18-30 year old, Uni' students); and think a rejuvenated app store for techies under WebOS ecosystem (think: app' developers / outright Geeks like us! .. tell me you know the difference between a serial bus and a <i>Greyhound</i>).<br><br>The point is this: Amazon with WebOS has the potential to topple the mobile / social-centric, king: Apple. The reason being they would finally have the "total package device" that meets the expectations and needs of a wide variety / cross-section of society - that not even Apple can truly, honestly attest to.<br><br>The only thing that remains, now, is for Amazon to see that obvious potential and move to acquire WebOS.
      thx-1138_
      • RE: Why HP's WebOS could be foundation for next Kindle Fire

        @thx-1138_@... Why do you assume the public is longing for a device to topple the ipad? The "public" could not care less, they just want a device that meets their needs which the ipad seems to do quite nicely.

        The tech intelligensia, tech apple haters and the like want the ipad toppled for their own reasons. But in the end they are as important as a carbuncle at the end of a zit to the millions that buy these devices. Remember it's the Best Buy crowd, not the registered posters at ZDnet that generate giant sales volume!

        Non-Apple tablet manufacturers have failed because they have not given the consumer enough of a reason to not buy an ipad. A device with a proven track record with a company behind it that is dedicated to the technology. I believe the Daring Fireball blog summed up that argument very nicely.

        Having said that I agree with the prognosticators that argue Amazon has a great shot at establishing the Fire as a major platform. The reason is they are giving consumers a reason to buy the product. It's got a set of benefits that do not overlap with the ipad. Sure some do like great screen, good battery life, etc. but it's unique selling proposition (USP for all you advertising pros) is it's an AMAZON tablet and tightly connected to the Amazon ecosystem goodness, not to mention the price and form factor (7" screen is just fine for many people).

        Net, it's not a zero sum game. Strangely a loser in this could be Android. Amazon used the guts of the Android code to underpin their system, but they have demonstrated no particular love for Android. Amazon is famously agnostic to anything that does not fit their long term strategy.

        With Android code forking left and right and handset (and tablet) manufacturers making it confusing for consumers, the buying decision may come down to the choice between quality and trusted brands. And right now the only player is Apple, but Amazon will probably be a quality alternative within 6 months. And as difficult as it may be to hear for all you Android fanboys, a third player is not even on the horizon yet.
        jjniss