webOS is dead, long live webOS

HP kills off webOS. However, I do not believe this is the end of webOS. On the contrary, I think it’s the start.

The quote from the press release:

HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.

How do you optimize the value of webOS software without producing webOS devices? By selling it.

HP was already in talks with Samsung, so that’s one definite option. HTC is another. Basically anyone who needs a good mobile OS does.

Anyway, HP did something very clever (or lucky) by announcing this just after the MotoGoogle bombshell. “Dear discontented Android vendors, if you’re doubting your eternal and undying allegiance to Google, we have a shiny OS for sale for you. No strings attached. Place your bids.”

HP had no fucking clue what to do with a progressive mobile OS. It’s likely that webOS’s future owners will perform better. They can hardly do worse.

Update: The Next Web unearths a tweet by an HP VP:

#HPwebOS is an awesome software platform and now we can explore the best hardware partner for it. #onward.

This means licensing or outright sale. I’m guessing the latter. First of all HP holds something unique: a fully-fledged, tested OS that is considered to be the closest competitor to iOS UX-wise. This is worth serious money.

Secondly, licensing would mean that HP would have to maintain webOS, and HP is not a software house — its core business seems to be overcharging for oddly-shaped plastic containers with ink. That doesn’t work in the mobile space. (Of course HP may not actually see this evident truth.)

So my bet is on sale. To whom? My bet is on Samsung. As The Next Web points out, Samsung CEO Lee already stated he wants to boost the company’s software prowess by acquisition. Perfect match. And if not Samsung, then one of the other Android vendors.

Update 2: New details surface on This Is My Next. Seems to be licensing after all, which means HP has to continue to work on webOS and port it to other chipsets. Simultaneously, staff reductions were announced.

Not good.

Update 3: Incidentally, it strikes me that HP is doing exactly the opposite of Google. Google wants hardware to go with its software, while HP ditches the hardware that goes with its software. Granted, HP/Palm hardware was never the best, but this seems a bit radical, not to mention counter to the entire flow of the market towards greater integration.

Update 4: ZDNet does some math and finds that if webOS is to be licensed, the licensees should sell 60 million devices in order to earn back investments so far. And that doesn’t even count the continuing operating cost of a department full of software wizards.

Tending towards sale again. Besides, This is My Next’s source was (apparently) an HP employee in the all-hands meeting, and in such a meeting you don’t say that the entire project is going to be sold to the highest bidder, not if you want to keep your engineers happy so that your software can continue to look good to buyers or licensees.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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