webOS doomed to fail, say former HP and Palm employees

In April 2010, HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion and among Palm's assets were the rights to its proprietary webOS mobile operating system. HP tried to launch hardware products with the OS, particularly the HP TouchPad, but they weren't particularly successful. Now a new article in the New York Times quotes former HP and Palm team members as saying the webOS was doomed to fail at HP, due in part to the way it was designed.

Paul Mercer, the now former senior director of software at Palm, states, "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. Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn’t there yet."

One of the problems, according to Mercer, was basing webOS on Webkit. Mercer now says that was a mistake, saying that applications would not be able to have as good performance as they would on Apple's iOS devices. webOS was also developed fairly quickly; it took only nine months to complete its programming from start to finish and the article claims that Palm took shortcuts to finish the job. The first smartphone with webOS, the Palm Pre, was released in June 2009; however many reviewers commented on the slow performance of the phone.

After HP bought Palm, an unnamed Palm employee who stayed on at HP said that the company hired hundreds of people to continue webOS's development. The employee stated, "The H.P. people came in and said H.P.’s vision is to put WebOS on all their hardware. WebOS became their shiny new toy, but then they just abandoned it.”

Even though HP recently decided to make webOS an open source project, Mercer still believes that its roots in Webkit will be an issue. He states, "If the bar is to build Cupertino-class software in terms of responsiveness and beauty, WebKit remains not ready for prime time, because the Web cannot deliver yet."

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