HP called an all-staff meeting of the webOS team this afternoon to discuss the future of the mobile operating system. According to The Verge, CEO Meg Whitman told employees that she’s still not sure what to do with webOS, and that it’s more important to make the right decision than the fast one.
That report was indirectly confirmed by a member of the webOS team.
HP paid $1.2 billion to acquire Palm and take over webOS last year, but this summer the company discontinued production of all webOS hardware devices including smartphones and tablets.
Over the past few months we’ve heard rumors that HP would attempt to get other hardware makers to license the software, or that HP could be preparing to sell its webOS assets entirely. It’s also possible that HP could just cut its losses and kill the project, or try to leverage the software for use in other devices such as printers.
At first blush, it seems odd that the company would call a staff meeting just to announce that there’s no announcement. But this week Reuters reported that Oracle or another company could be interested in buying webOS from HP. The staff meeting might be Whitman’s way of calming the troops… or just warning them not to believe everything they read online — even if it later turns out later to be true.
Over the last two years, about 4.2 million people have registered webOS devices including Palm and HP smartphones and the HP TouchPad tablet. It’s not clear how many of those people are still using webOS on their mobile devices. Many people may have moved on to other devices — and a number of people that picked up HP TouchPad tablets at fire-sale prices this summer have installed Android on the tablets.
The webOS operating system does have a lot of things going for it. Palm and HP worked out one of the best systems for multitasking a few years ago, and the webOS 3.0 software for the HP TouchPad makes smart use of the screen real estate on tablets with multi-panel applications for email, blogging, and other activities. The TouchPad was the first tablet to get an official Facebook app, and the overall user experience is pretty nice — if a little sluggish compared with high-end Android or iOS tablets.
But the TouchPad only became a hit with consumers when HP slashed prices by up to 80 percent to liquidate the remaining inventory, and while there are hundreds of thousands of third party apps for iOS and Android, there are only about 10,000 apps available for the webOS platform — and only about a tenth of them are optimized for tablets.
HP shows a lot of promise… but it’s been showing a lot of promise for years. If HP does decide to keep the operating system, the company will need to put some serious effort into not only making it work better, but marketing it to consumers and developers if it wants to compete with market-leaders Android, iOS, or even Windows Phone.