The Life And Death Of webOS: From Palm to HP

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Today’s news from HP marks what looks like the end of an era, with the company deciding to throw in the towel on webOS-based smartphones. The platform has only been around for about a couple years, starting with rumors of something called “Nova” that Palm was working on. We got a proper name for the project with Palm announcing webOS and the Palm Pre at CES 2009.

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By summer, Palm had launched the original Pre QWERTY slider. The Pixi gave users an option with a non-slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Early 2010 brought news of upgrades to the Palm and Pixi, both getting Plus designations as part of a hardware and software refresh.

That April, HP and Palm revealed that HP would acquire Palm, along with webOS, in a $1.2 billion transaction. Would the new owner be able to shake things up and make webOS a success? We were to find out over the next sixteen months.

After learning of the pending HP acquisition, we wondered about how HP would brand its new holdings. Ultimately, it chose to drop “Palm” altogether, putting that part of the line’s history to rest.

As HP took the reigns, we started to get a little optimisitc about the new direction its leadership might lend to webOS. A contest announced by HP and Palm sought to drum up interest in development of webOS apps, but ultimately the numbers just weren’t there to compete with Apple or Google.

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October of 2010 brought us the announcement of the Pre 2, along with webOS 2.0 running on it. The Pre 2 showed a steady evolution of the original Pre’s hardware, keeping the increased RAM from the Pre Plus, and boosting the processor to 1GHz. On the other hand, there wasn’t much “wow” to the phone’s specs, and incremental spec bumps may not have been what consumers were looking for.

At the time, webOS 2.0 was supposed to come to all previous devices. Later, HP revised those promises, severely scaling back its update plans. For users who had taken a chance with webOS as an alternative smartphone platform, this was a bit of a kick in the face.

For a little while, it looked like HP was ready to expand the reach of webOS, and rumors pointed to the company planning at least half a dozen devices, including both smartphones and tablets for 2011. In reality, we only got half that.

palm veer top


The first webOS phone to land in 2011 was the miniscule Veer. Even in a tiny package, HP was able to give the phone some decent hardware, with the processing power of much larger Androids. The magnetic adapters needed for headphones or USB might have been prone to loss, but they showed that HP was really thinking outside the box with webOS hardware.

Just like any other mobile operating system, webOS had its hackers pushing the limits of what was possible. If you were so inclined, you could even squeeze Android onto the original Pre.

It looks like webOS’s swan song will be the Pre 3. Announced back in February, the smartphone is only starting to arrive now. The handset saw another of the line’s incremental updates, boosting CPU speed but not doing anything about memory, with the same 512MB the Pre Plus had. If you’re curious to see how webOS ended up (on smartphones, at least) after its short life, this is the phone to check out.

Pre3 Euro


Sing it loud for webOS, fellas:


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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!