WebOS uptake rides on scalability, easy app creation

HP operating system able to scale quickly and easy to develop for, which developers should find appealing, analyst notes, but says rival platforms--namely, Android and Windows 8--will need to falter for WebOS to be significant tablet player.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Recently converted into an open source initiative, WebOS's scalability and easy app development base may attract the developers it needs to make it a viable mobile platform in an already crowded market. However, it has to be strongly championed by Hewlett-Packard to see success which, an analyst adds, is also dependent on the failure of one of its rival platforms.

According to Beau Skonieczny, research analyst for computing practice at Technology Business Research (TBR), WebOS is built on a scalable operating environment that is well-suited for multiple form factors such as PCs, smartphones and tablets, as well as smart TVs and automobiles.

Additionally, with the use of Web apps, Skonieczny said developers will be able to leverage standardized Java development tools to build and port apps to WebOS more rapidly compared to Apple's iOS or Google's Android systems.

He suggested that WebOS will be a "pet project" under new HP CEO Meg Whitman, who is likely to support funding to get the open source project off the ground. As such, the software's use of an adaptive development platform, combined with initial funding from HP, will establish strong developer backing to propel it beyond the tier-2 status of other open source mobile operating systems such Symbian and MeeGo, the TBR analyst predicted.

Willson Cuaca, CEO of Indonesia-based mobile app development company Apps Foundry, also lauded HP's decision to turn WebOS into an open source project.

"I think it is a very good initiative, and it will be great if some of the hardware manufacturers can adopt it, especially those in China," he said in an e-mail.

Cuaca went on to urge HP to quickly create its own payment mechanism, implement app discovery and identify a clear target market.

"As an app developer, [whether it is an] open or a close system doesn't really matter to me. What matters is its distribution, target market, payment system, app publishing platform and how easy it is to build an app using the SDK (software development kit)," he explained.

Rivals need to stumble
For WebOS to play a considerable role in the tablet landscape, however, Skonieczny believes current incumbents such as Android or Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 platforms will need to "falter first".

The TBR analyst noted that commercial buyers are waiting to evaluate Microsoft's entry, while staying wary of Apple because its iOS is a closed system and they do not have much influence over Cupertino. He added that Google's Android continues to be plagued with security concerns as well.

"If neither Microsoft nor Google offers a clear winner for commercial tablets, WebOS, from a familiar vendor such as HP, could provide an answer," he surmised.

Furthermore, Skonieczny noted that if third-party developers from the open source community are able to enhance WebOS, and Windows 8 turns out "flawed", HP's global sales channels and enterprise relationships can provide a catalyst for the software's adoption among commercial customers.

"TBR believes enterprise clients have a bias toward working with HP over consumer-oriented organizations such as Apple and Google," he added.

His optimism for WebOS was not shared by IDC's Melissa Chau, though. The research manager of client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview going open source would not be a "magic key for success" here, pointing to mobile Linux as an example of an open source operating system that "didn't really get any traction".

Chau added that without a big champion for WebOS, such as Google has been for Android, the platform is not going to be able to attract mobile developers to come onboard.

The positive sentiments and reviews of the software when it was first launched in 2009 is also now outdated and are "not going to hold", she said.

The IDC analyst had earlier expressed doubts that WebOS would be able to overtake Microsoft's Windows Phone or Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS in the smartphone arena. She explained that Web OS's current market share was "too far down" to gain traction and did not have a huge market potential.

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