So Meg Whitman announced Friday that HP was giving up on webOS devices and that they planned to open source the code and let everyone have at it.
Basically this means that webOS is dead. It doesn’t have support from any major software developers and today it lost the support of its only major hardware developer. Given that there’s not a lot that the end user cannot do with it, there’s really no reason to invest in webOS. It’s dead.
That’s certainly what I first thought, but then I tried to justify the idea to one of my readers, and I realized that it might not be true.
Update: There are reports that HP will release a webOS tablet in 2013, so apparently death is not an absolute.
Quantum Chaos emailed me a link to one of the stories about the death of webOS. I tried to work my way through an argument explaining why webOS was dead and I realized halfway through that it wasn’t.
As I see it, we’re probably not going to see webOS on any major brand name tablets next year. But because webOS is open source (and because Android is so crowded), we will very likely see cheap tablets coming out of China with webOS installed.
We’ll see those Chinese tablets show up under any number of brand names. They won’t run very well, they won’t be able to do much straight out of the box, and it will be a pain in the ass to find apps for them. But that’s okay. The cheap webOS tablets can survive those hindrances.
I know it’s possible because that’s where Android tablets were last year.
Lots of people bought those first cheap Android tablets. They couldn’t do much on their own so they banded together into support groups, shared tips and tricks, and helped each other extract some value from their tablet purchase.
The same could happen with webOS. On the upside, webOS already has a community of indie developers, it already has online communities of users, and it already has die-hard fanbois. All webOS needs now is support from device makers.
Again, I doubt that any major hardware company will risk their money on a webOS tablet, but there are dozens of small operations in China that will give it a try. And at least a few of those tablets will filter out of China and end up on the US and European markets.
Of course, the downside of junky tablets is that webOS appears to require a dual core CPU (at least it needed it for the TouchPad). That’s not cheap. But it’s also not an absolute. I checked, and a number of the webOS phones are not using a dual core CPU. Some are based on sophisticated SOC (system on chip), but that’s not the same thing.
I suspect that we will see Rockchip in particular develop their own flavor of webOS that runs well on their cheap CPUs. They’ve done a decent job with Android, and they should be able to repeat it with webOS. The result won’t be a premium tablet, but it will be a step above the rest of the junk on the market.
And in the long run all those junky tablets will eventually lead to better ones. We might end up seeing a premium tablet running webOS (probably).
I won’t make any guarantees that webOS will survive, but it is most definitely not dead yet. I won’t pass judgement on webOS until at least CES 2013
2012. That’s when I would expect to see webOS tablets in person. If none appear then I might revisit this prediction.
All in all, this will be an interesting year.