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."

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Rumor: Galaxy Note to be sold by AT&T in US?

Next Story

CES 2012 starts this weekend, and we'll be there!

14 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I really am tired of the doom and gloom articles. WebOS is pretty good. Waybe they did not have the talent the needed to move it further... maybe it was the time and reasorces, but they came up with a very interesting platform. I hope that it will see some new life with the Open source community. The first thing they should work on is making it a more interesting development experience for the devs. That is key now more than ever. Objective C is not really that pretty, but once you are first out the gate to develop a good set of software, it is hard to not notice that it probably has improved.

Tools are key. I don't think performance was a major issue... and you do have access to do native apps from what little I gleamed from the SDKs in addition to the webbased dev stuff. (Have not dug in deep yet.)

I don't understand how this OS is based on WebKit. Are the apps really just HTML files or what? It really doesn't seem like it.

My understanding is minimal, but to me, if Windows 8 metro apps are largely HTML+JS and still so versatile, why not something similar on top of Webkit?

Joshie said,
My understanding is minimal, but to me, if Windows 8 metro apps are largely HTML+JS and still so versatile, why not something similar on top of Webkit?

Windows 8 Apps based on html/js are running on the IE10 engine which is hardware accelerated, thus they are almost as fast as win8 apps built using xaml/winrt

On webos, webkit was not hardware accelerated. Rendering the whole UI in a browser using software rendering is very slow, even slower than rendering a similar UI in a specialized animation/vector framework like flash (even without hardware acceleration)

link8506 said,

Windows 8 Apps based on html/js are running on the IE10 engine which is hardware accelerated, thus they are almost as fast as win8 apps built using xaml/winrt

On webos, webkit was not hardware accelerated. Rendering the whole UI in a browser using software rendering is very slow, even slower than rendering a similar UI in a specialized animation/vector framework like flash (even without hardware acceleration)


Welp, today I learned! I guess if nothing else, it's impressive how much they managed to do with what they had. For some reason I always equated WebOS with JoliOS insofar as how it was a platform.

link8506 said,
Windows 8 Apps based on html/js are running on the IE10 engine which is hardware accelerated, thus they are almost as fast as win8 apps built using xaml/winrt

Pretty sure that HTML5/JS apps are still compiled to bytecode the same as winRT apps using managed languages and C++.

dotf said,

Pretty sure that HTML5/JS apps are still compiled to bytecode the same as winRT apps using managed languages and C++.


Nope. Well, the JS parts might be compiled by IE's JS engine. But other than that, they're no different than any other website in that regard. The web app container is nothing more than a chromeless IE, that probably has special hooks in the JS side to make calling Windows APIs possible.

Deihmos said,
Didn't it already fail

The point is that it "was doomed to" all along. It failed, but for a more fundamental reason than HP 'screwing it up' or 'abandoning it'. From a code standpoint, I can't see any reason to disagree with the guy. A mobile platform based on HTML in 2009 had no chance of being as robust as iOS. We can all sit around and hurl anecdotal evidence at each other about its snappiness, but to be painfully frank, people's standards for 'smooth as butter' flip-flop and fluctuate over time.

I can't count how many times over the last two years, following homebrew development on my Android handsets, that I've seen people gushing about how every week's new ROM release "really flies!". You'd think after two years of Android hardware improvements, more and more cores, and six or seven iterations of the OS, "really flies" would have lost its meaning somewhere along the way.

I imagine it's the same story for WebOS.

I have a touchpad and it does everything fast and runs games just as well as iOS. The only thing it's slower at then iOS is cold booting but how often do most people do that? It's not quite as optimized as iOS but it's nothing drastic.

While I absolute love webOS' design I found its overall performance to be sluggish compared to my own iPad 2.

What comes to mind was a Touchpad walkthrough video posted here on the main page a while back. When the guy tried to open the Office documents viewing app it took over 30 seconds to launch. Hell, the video ended before the app actually launched. Exact same thing happened on a demo machine I had in my hands later on. Hopefully HP addressed it in an update.