Feature Article

February 26, 2013

The Once Promising Palm WebOS is now ApplianceOS - Hewlett-Packard Sells off to LG

Although LG announced this deal yesterday, we decided to take a day to mourn the ultimate demise of WebOS as a mobile OS. It isn’t completely clear if we should view what has now finally become of WebOS with sadness, disappointment or simply no reaction at all. The truth is that WebOS has been out of sight and out of mind for so long – practically since the day HP acquired it and Palm - that it simply doesn’t matter any longer from a mobile perspective. Talk about a death star descending toward and taking aim at something and completely annihilating it.

We’re not being completely fair with that assessment. If Leo Apotheker hadn’t taken over HP as CEO when he did, WebOS and the new hardware HP was building around it at the time might have lived on. It certainly appeared that would be the case just ahead of Apotheker’s emergence as a sad sack HP CEO. WebOS and its team of developers of course subsequently headed off into open source limbo, which is akin to being a vampire without any of the fun vampires can have.

In any case, we suppose we are in fact glad to see that WebOS will come out of limbo and be returned to the world of the living. How so? LG Electronics, which has been toying with the idea of using WebOS for its smart TV efforts since at least October 2012, has reached an agreement with HP to take WebOS over. Further, LG will in fact be looking to use WebOS exclusively for its smart TV products and projects. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but we’re safe in saying that it all likely went for the proverbial song and dance.

LG will retain the remaining WebOS staff – over 275 former members were let go by HP a year ago, and in May of last year Google took on board a number of the remaining developers as it looked to develop greater in-house HTML5 expertise. The rest will now become part of a new smart TV adventure – unless of course they opt to go elsewhere, especially if they continue to harbor hopes of delivering smartphone and/or tablet technology. LG will also get the WebOS source code, all patents that HP obtained from the original acquisition of Palm, all documentation of course, and ownership of various WebOS websites. The deal calls for LG to receive licenses for use with any WebOS products.

Perhaps in anticipation of the WebOS acquisition, LG has been in the process of creating a new Silicon Valley lab, which is based primarily in the Bay area, with offices in Sunnyvale and San Francisco. WebOs still has offices in both Chicago and San Jose – it isn’t clear what will happen to these though it doesn’t strike us as making sense to continue holding on to them. Interestingly, LG’s TV business suffered a precipitous profit drop in Q4 2012 and perhaps WebOS is just what the doctor needed to order for LG to recover.

Skott Ahn, president and chief technology officer for LG, states that WebOS, "Creates a new path for LG to offer an intuitive user experience and Internet services across a range of consumer electronics devices." That isn’t exactly saying a lot, but we will note that WebOS does have a very interesting user UI – one that we had thought HP could have turned into a meaningful differentiator for its mobile products…that is, before Apotheker destroyed the whole thing. We look forward to what LG conjures up on the smart TV front.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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