Can LG be the Company that Finally Saves webOS?
Call me bitter, but I’m not happy. Anyone who ever had hopes of success for the awesome platform that never was likely has the same sour taste in their mouth.
Originally developed by Palm (before it tanked, of course), webOS was easily one of the brightest mobile operating systems to enter the scene in 2009. Its interface was fresh, intuitive and gorgeous. Even the hardware was unique. (Personally, I loved the design of the original Pre, even though the keyboard was awful and the device itself was on the small side.)
Fast forward four years and webOS has taken quite a beating. It has since been tossed around like a rag doll and pummeled to a pulp. It was saved from the jaws of death by HP … sort of. HP drove webOS further into the ground and after several long months decided to re-release it as the Open webOS project, solely to keep the dream alive for enthusiasts.
You could say it’s been a roller coaster ride for webOS, but it hasn’t. It’s been more along the lines of a mudslide down a very steep hill.
Yesterday, LG announced it has brokered a deal with HP to use webOS. Details are scarce. But contrary to the original report, LG gains only the webOS source code and some documentation in the deal. HP will keep the cloud services (App Catalog and updating services), the patents from Palm. LG will be licensing the software from HP.
If the move comes as a slight surprise, it shouldn’t. CNET’s Roger Chen says LG has had its sights set on webOS for some time. In October, it was reported that LG was hard at work on a webOS-based HTDV. The question now is: can LG do anything more with webOS than HP and Palm have? Can LG save webOS?
I’m not getting my hopes up. I have more than once for webOS, yet the platform’s long string of misfortunes have only brought me down time and time again.
We know the company plans to equip televisions with the software. But what are LG’s plans with webOS, exactly?
Even LG doesn’t seem clear or confident in how it will use webOS. LG President and CTO Skott Ahn says, “It creates a new path for LG to offer an intuitive user experience and Internet services across a range of consumer electronics devices.” Judging by LG’s presentation at CES this year, they’re going big on appliances. I imagine webOS will be replacing Android on all these machines – or that’s at least what it seems will happen. Washers, dryers, televisions and refrigerators will all powered by webOS and interact with Android smartphones.
Cool, I guess. However, there was no talk of webOS on future smartphones or tablets, only a general purpose for consumer electronics. The possibility of an LG-made webOS smartphone isn’t totally off the table; LG finds the user experience (UX) much more user-friendly than Android. Unfortunately, an official webOS smartphone doesn’t sound very likely – not for a while, at least.
And that’s why this may be the final nail in the coffin for webOS. No one cares about what software runs their television, washer or dryer. These are things no one dwells on too much; webOS will bring nothing new to the television market, and beyond the interface and what features it offers, no one will care what’s actually running the washer or dryer either.
In other words, all of this integration means absolutely nothing for the success of webOS as a platform. All it does is keep the empty dreams alive a little longer. The development LG will bring to webOS isn’t likely going to affect the Open webOS development for smartphones. Instead, it will be manipulated to allow you to start a dry cycle while you’re out running errands or preheat the oven before you get home.
And it does nothing to grow its nonexistent stake in the mobile market, which is the only thing webOS enthusiasts care about. I’m sure Derek Kessler, Editor-in-Chief of webOS Nation, is cringing at the thought of reporting on home appliances in the future – although I can’t say reviewing an LG TV would be insufferable.
The point is: webOS and LG need each other, but not for televisions, washers, dryers, ovens or other home appliances.
Sure, equipping your smart home with webOS is a neat idea. But LG continually fails to rouse mobile enthusiasts with truly unique and innovative devices. It builds great hardware from time to time, and can hang with the best of them, albeit a little uninspired (ahem … LG Optimus Note G Pro II). Software on the mobile front has never been one of LG’s strong points either.
And four years later, webOS has yet to leave the starting line. It has also failed to totally die out. Companies are keeping it on life support while also keeping it from reaching its full potential. Yet enthusiasm for the OS still exists, the promise of the platform may have suffered a few tough hits, but there’s a reason it’s not totally dead yet.
LG has the opportunity to offer something HP and Palm both failed to do. LG has the opportunity to turn an awesome, infantile operating system into what it should have been from the start, a thriving contender.
Alas, after all is said and done, LG will continue to do what it does best (at least in the smartphone market): follow in the footsteps of those before it. In this case, webOS will continue to live in limbo for the rest of its unfortunate, miserable life. All the while, if the two would just mingle a little more, both could win the hearts and loyalty of many.
LG, Android clearly isn’t earning you profits hand over fist. What do you have to lose? Give webOS a chance. Make one webOS smartphone … just one. Do it for us. Do it for the webOS fans.