webOS: A compelling OS that never appeared on great hardware

HP/Palm webOS is a very good mobile operating system, but neither company could get compelling hardware released and developers never seemed to flock to the OS.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I started using Palm devices with the US Robotics Pilot 1000 in 1997. Palm had some great times in the early days of the handheld market, but then reached a point where I thought they were done. At CES 2009 they revealed their slick new webOS operating system and people generally seemed to enjoy using it. However, Palm failed to deliver compelling hardware and only ever reached almost 5% of the smartphone market share in the U.S. with about 2% worldwide. When HP buying Palm for $1.2 billion I had hopes for someone to come in and release great hardware, but they just let the same thing continue that Palm started.

In 1996, data shows Palm sold something like 350,000 PDAs and then went on to gain 40+% of the market share over the next couple of years and up to 68% in 1999. Palm OS and the Treo line was killer back in the day, but they let Microsoft pass them up and then died off with a lack of focus. It is unfortunate that the Palm name started out so well and ended up life as a has been with problematic hardware and a fantastic OS.

I think webOS is one of the best mobile operating systems around, it is not as perfect as enthusiasts believe though, but unfortunately it never has been on good hardware. HP had the opportunity to launch a TouchPad that could have easily moved into 2nd place behind the iPad as webOS offers a much more fluid and coherent OS than Android on tablets at this time. They saw the iPad and should have tried to make hardware that was sleeker and more appealing. If they would have launched it at $50 to $100 less than the iPad right away rather than waiting a month that too may have made it more appealing to the buyer. I still think they gave up too early though and with another software update or two and release of the Pre 3 showing how the phone and tablet could work together the TouchPad may have done quite well.

From what I could find there was something like 7,000 apps available in the App Catalog for webOS devices and it seemed like developers were coming around with the TouchPad. webOS may live on in the future, but if it does I sure hope someone puts it on excellent hardware like it deserves.

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