HP webOS open source begins -- what next?

HP is divulging how the open sourcing of webOS will take place, but there are still some questions to address about the viability of the platform.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

The strange story of the webOS platform continues, with HP providing a few details on how the open sourcing will proceed. The company recently confirmed it will offer up the platform to open source, as it shuts down its webOS-based business. The OS will be given to the open source community under an Apache license 2.0 when it's ready, and the Enyo 1.0/2.0 app framework is available now. With the entire mobile platform soon to be available for third parties to build tablets, what can we expect next and are there any roadblocks in the way?

The first version of the new platform will be Open webOS 1.0 according to HP, ready by September of this year. The framework of webOS will receive major changes in the coming months to convert it to a standard Linux kernel, like Android, which will make it easier to port to different hardware. This could go a long way to getting webOS on new devices in the future.

Giving webOS to open source is a good thing, rather than HP just shutting it down and letting it die. It makes sense for someone to take it and building a good tablet to take advantage of the platform's strengths.

I have come to believe that webOS is a good platform for tablets since picking up the ill-fated TouchPad at launch. Everything about the OS is optimized for touch tablet operation, and in my opinion it is far better than Android on tablets. Smartphones are a different thing, as Android running any version since Froyo is on par with phones running webOS.

Phones aside, my experience with Gingerbread tablets and what I've seen of Ice Cream Sandwich so far firms up the feeling that webOS is better for tablets than Google's offering. The user interface, operation, and tablet integration in webOS is first-rate, much better than that of Android. With the exception of the number of apps available, webOS is superior in every way.

I don't think we'll see anyone jump up and start building a webOS tablet right away, as there are still too many questions about the future of the platform. The biggest question is that of apps, rather the lack of them, that greatly limits the attraction of a new tablet running webOS. It is not a given that webOS app developers will continue working with the platform instead of moving to iOS or Android to make a living. Companies building a new tablet based on the open source webOS may have to think about developing their own apps too, which is a major commitment.

I hope ongoing app development concentrates on the tablet form only, and forgets about phones. The effort needs to focus on the tablet, which I think has a chance going forward. I don't really see a third party webOS phone ever hitting the market, so no need for phone apps. Carriers haven't jumped on webOS, and are even less likely to do so now that it is an open platform without a single company behind it. Focus on the best chance and format is my thinking.

Even if webOS apps continue to appear in the market, the future of the webOS app store is not clear. HP has little incentive to keep operating the webOS app store for the long-term, and that casts a cloud over the future of the app ecosystem. Will the store and ecosystem get sold to a third party, or will the store eventually go away? That's a big if, and one that should weigh heavily on companies thinking of testing the webOS open source waters.

Any company that has been troubled by the failure of Android tablets to take off in a big way, or concerned about the patent situation of Android, would do well to give webOS a shot. A new tablet would stand out from the crowd of Android tablets that keep showing up, and given the open source nature of webOS they could customize it even further. I believe we could see some mighty fine webOS tablets hit the market, if the Samsungs or HTCs of the world are willing to give it a shot.

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