Editorial: WebOS Will Die Unless HP Stays its Course

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A few days ago Brandon postulated that HP’s Web OS would die unless they license WebOS and let third party manufacturers begin making devices based on the OS, much like Google does with Android.

The Pre3 is just around the corner and should be sporting a higher resolution screen, faster processor, and all around improvements. Brandon feels the “problem” with WebOS is that it is being made by one company who is also making one smartphone at a time — with new hardware coming out every six or more months. That’s all true.

Android and Windows Phone have many manufacturers cranking out seemingly endless hardware variants, all with different specifications, all tied together by a common operating system. So far it’s working, but every chance critics get, they bring up Android’s “fragmentation” as being a stumbling block which will doom the platform. They’re a little less vocal about Windows Phone devices because Microsoft has such a tight hold on their specifications and hardware requirements. This can’t last forever, since specifications will change as technology moves forward — Microsoft has simply delayed the inevitable.

Apple, on the other hand, has a very limited set of hardware options: iPhone 3G, 3Gs, 4G GSM, 4G CDMA, iPad, and iPad2. All run essentially the same version of the operating system. Apple has been able to essentially segment their offerings into a budget device, high-end device, and tablet — which sounds very limited to me. Even still, Apple has done very well with their strategy.

Brandon’s recommendation is for HP to license their operating system to OEMs so they can begin to offer a wider variety of devices (and hopefully catch up in the app game). That’s certainly a valid consideration. Long ago, however, Palm did just that: they licensed the Palm OS to others, namely Handspring. Handspring created the Visor line of “Palm knock-offs”. The Visor line was not only less expensive than Palm devices, they were cheaper, too. Nonetheless, they were a hit.

Unfortunately, with the success of the less expensive Visor came the impression that devices made by Palm were overly expensive, or that devices running the Palm OS were of low-quality. In short: licensing the OS hurt sales — badly. Palm had to scramble and get licensees to discontinue selling “knock-offs” before it was too late.

Much later, HP acquired Palm and now finds themselves faced with the same dilemma: license WebOS and risk someone else making a device that hurts the WebOS’ reputation, or reign in their currently limited device offerings to be more in-line with that of Apple.

Having lived through the Handspring Visor era, I side with the latter, and hope HP can go toe to toe with Apple.

What are your thoughts? Did you own a Handspring Visor? Do you think history will repeat itself if HP licenses off the WebOS? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.