Despite HP Co.’s promise that WebOS will continue to live on, industry bloggers argue the mobile OS will find no buyers among handset makers.
Shortly after pulling the plug on its WebOS smart phones and tablets, HP’s WebOS chief, Steven DeWitt, assured staff that the company will license out the Palm-built mobile OS to other hardware vendors. DeWitt told Bloomberg that “The WebOS is not dead. … We’re going to continue to evolve it, update and support it. We stand by it.”
Guardian blogger Charles Arthur argued that HP will be unable to licence the OS due to its lackluster app development community and uncertain support cycle. He added that potential licensees would be scared off by patent disputes.
“WebOS apps could become the target for patent troll attacks, just on the basis that the parent wouldn’t be willing to engage,” Arthur wrote. “Bad news for app developers, who would likely shift to other platforms where at least they can be sure that there is some backing: Apple is backing its developers against Lodsys, and Google has weighed in too.”
“Nobody is going to license WebOS because it’s a dead end,” he added.
Electricpig blogger Mic Wright said that one of the biggest issues with getting WebOS picked up by another hardware maker is the fact that the mobile OS only works with Qualcomm chips. While most of the major mobile handset makers will take a pass on building WebOS devices, he wrote, other buyers will probably want to see a version of the software that’s ready to play with a wider selection of hardware.
“There are smaller wild card options like ZTE or Vizio who might be tempted to grab a piece of WebOS for the right price, using it to jazz up affordable tablets and smart phones, but the problem is that without a significant volume of sales, developers just aren’t going to be drawn to the platform,” Wright wrote.
He added that rather than seeing WebOS licensed as a living entity, HP’s mobile OS will probably get sucked into the ongoing patent wars.
“Now Google has grabbed itself a big stash of mobile patents by buying Motorola, it’s not hard to envisage a scenario where Microsoft, Apple and Google go sniffing around the Palm patents to further enlarge their arsenals.”
ZDNet’s Larry Dignan said the WebOS licensing concept makes little sense when one crunches the numbers.
“HP lost US$332 million on corporate investments. That loss basically equates to the Palm unit,” he said. “But if HP were to pursue a licensing model it would have to get $5 per device and sell more than 60 million units to break even at the cash burn.”
“The only way HP could make a WebOS licensing model work would be to convince Samsung and HTC to defect from the Android army. Even with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility the chances of that outcome are slim.”
The winning strategy for HP, Dignan said, is to dump the WebOS business in a patent auction.
Of course, not every blogger has lost all hope with WebOS.
“The choice for a manufacturer now is a straight one, between Android and Windows Phone,” wrote The Register’s Andrew Orlowski.
“And Android has just got a lot less attractive this week, as Google has to grapple with the problem of digesting Motorola (pending regulatory approval, of course). All those eerily similar expressions of support for the Motorola Mobility takeover give away a lot of misgivings.”
Orlowski said that every Android licensee has been burning the midnight oil since the Motorola announcement, trying to evaluate the costs of an alternative strategy.
“So, freed of its hardware conflict, HP can step in. It really is in a position to license WebOS and become the third platform rival to Apple.”