webOS is back from the dead

The strange saga of webOS has taken another wild turn with South Korean electronics giant LG Electronics Inc. (KSC:066570) purchasing the operating system for an undisclosed price from Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ).  LG says it does not plan to use the operating system in smartphones, but rather intends it to form the backbone of its Smart TV offerings.

I. A Troubled History

For a time many smartphone fans consider webOS a potential top contender, when Palm first unveiled it in January 2009.  The successor to Palm OS, webOS tapped Palm's vast experience in the mobile industry it helped create, with unique features like swipe multi-tasking, Synergy (a service merging info from multiple email accounts, etc.), a complex notifications system and more.

But Palm's mobile efforts stalled under a sluggish hardware release pace and poor marketing.  In April 2010 HP scooped up Palm for what seemed like a bargain, and many hoped that would be the start of a turnaround for the beloved, but troubled OS.

Instead, things got worse, with HP driving sales into the ground.  Still, when HP launched webOS printers and the first webOS tablet -- the TouchPad -- some hoped that the situation could improve.  Instead HP decided to pull the plug on the troubled experiment, firing most of the webOS staff and clearancing off the remaining hardware.

webOS family
HP decision to kill webOS sunk earnings. [Image Source: All About webOS]
New executive Meg Whitman would eventually agree to open source key parts of webOS in a move that pleased fans.  But she always stated she wanted to sell the platform if the right buyer came along.

II. LG -- WebOS is for TVs Not Phones

That buyer appears to be LG.  Skott Ahn, president and chief technology officer of LG Electronics states, "It creates a new path for LG to offer an intuitive user experience and Internet services across a range of consumer electronics devices."

LG's webOS team will constitute the webOS/Palm offices in San Jose, Calif. and Chicago, Ill. that HP had held onto.  The core team, though, will be located at the new LG Silicon Valley Lab, with its Sunnyvale, Calif. and San Francisco, Calif. locations.

It is unclear how many veterans LG will be able to hang onto.  Reportedly, a number of employees jumped ship when the decision to use webOS to move towards smart televisions was announced.

Palm RIP
WebOS is back from the dead.

The team will continue to support HP and the former Palm's various webOS products, so the team will hang on to some of its traditional phone responsibilities.  But LG made it clear that it is firmly committed to Android on the phone/tablet front, and will not be considering webOS for mobile devices.

Still the decision is a blow to Google Inc. (GOOG) who was hoping to woo LG, one of the world's top TV makers, to use Android in its Smart TVs.

At first blush WebOS on a TV seems a questionable proposition.  However, the OS did lend itself well to other embedded environments -- namely HP's smart printers.  So perhaps with some TLC webOS may live again in a very different form.

Source: CNET

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