WebOS was destined to fail from the beginning, according to former Palm employees who spoke with The New York Times.
The mobile operating system, which powered Hewlett-Packard’s famous flameout TouchPad, was intended to compete with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. But people involved in its creation say the platform was doomed from conception.
“Palm was ahead of its time in trying to build a phone software platform using Web technology, and we just weren’t able to execute such an ambitious and breakthrough design,” Paul Mercer, the former senior director of software at Palm who oversaw the interface design of WebOS, told the newspaper. “Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn’t there yet.”
Other former Palm employees said former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein’s background in hardware hurt the effort and led to the decision to have the OS rely on a variant of WebKit, an open-source engine for displaying Web browsers also used by Apple and Google. Mercer called this a mistake because it prevented WebOS apps from running as fast as iPhone apps. He also said competition from Apple and Google made finding it difficult to find talented engineers who understood WebKit.
With its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in July 2010, HP had a mobile operating system of its own and was suddenly relevant in the smartphone industry. However, despite critical praise, the operating system failed to gain traction in the crowded mobile OS market.
HP announced in August it would discontinue development of WebOS, along with production of the TouchPad–just seven weeks after the tablet computer went on the market. The announcement, made by then-CEO Leo Apotheker, was part of his plan to transform the company from a consumer-electronics product manufacturer to a business-class software and consulting services provider.
After replacing Apotheker with Meg Whitman in September, HP announced it was mulling its options for the OS, including a possible sale. Ultimately, the company announced it would release the WebOS source code to developers.