HP’s announcement that they are killing off WebOS devices “for now” is somewhat of a shock- not that it happened, but that it happened so soon after launching their first and only WebOS-based tablet. Sure, the sales have been less than stellar, but it’s a bold move to wipe out an entire line less than two months out. Maybe HP deserves some credit here. They could have pulled a Microsoft-like Zune strategy where they fail to see the writing on the wall for years and continue to push a product nobody wants. Clearly the numbers were so bad that they felt it was a tailspin they couldn’t pull out of in this market.
As I’ve written about before, having a great product doesn’t guarantee success. WebOS had a lot to offer. It was a fairly innovative product built on top of Linux by a team led by ex-Apple employee Jon Rubinstein (an electrical engineer who who helped create the iPod). Initially released by Palm in early 2009, it received positive reviews for its fresh approach to multitasking and UI. Despite (or because of) a somewhat creepy ad campaign, sales were flat and an already troubled Palm was ripe for acquisition.
Enter HP. The computer giant purchased Palm in April 2010 for $1.2 billion, and announced that WebOS would live on in smartphones, tablets, and…printers? From there the tech world waited, and was finally rewarded with the Touchpad in July 2011. This review from Engadget sums it up:
Oh, happy day, when one first receives a device that’s been eagerly anticipated for months. Sad, sad day when that device fails to live up to one’s expectations. We all wanted the TouchPad to really compete, to give us a compelling third party to join the iOS and Android boxes on the ballot. But, alas, this isn’t quite it.
It was a short trip from there to the infamous Best Buy stories, and WebOS was toast. HP has cryptically stated that WebOS may rear its head at some point in the future, but I remember a similarly worded statement from Cupertino when Steve Jobs shuttered the Newton product line. It’s hard to admit the end.
Instead of dancing on the grave of WebOS, let’s ask ourselves what it means. It’s been surmised by many that there is no tablet market- just an iPad market. Perhaps HP should have worked on a line of phones first, but they went for what they saw was the growth market of larger slate devices. Others thought that HP would eventually kick Windows to the curb and release PCs running WebOS. With PCs in decline and profit margins on low-end computers next to nothing, this was not a gamble worth taking. In the end, it’s a sad day for Rubinstein and the many WebOS believers who poured years of their lives into creating a product that just couldn’t cut it.