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WebOS - It's Alive!

written by: •edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 7/30/2011

It will take more than a poor launch, corporate buy-out and flaky Flash Player support to kill off the webOS platform - given HP's backing and enterprise market strength, Apple and Google are paying close attention...

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    While most of the world makes a choice between iPad and Android tablets, spare a thought for the less popular mobile computing platforms that have been designed and optimized for use on slate computer devices.

    RIM have got the BlackBerry Playbook which features a new version of the touchscreen user interface first seen on the BlackBerry Storm mobile phone, and meanwhile HP have a new version of webOS, the impressive mobile phone operating system that they acquired with the purchase of failed PDA/mobile phone manufacturer Palm in 2010.

    That’s right, webOS: the sexy, interesting, but ultimately uninspiring mobile platform has been reimagined as a tablet operating system by HP, one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers.

    It seems that the tablet market is attracting all manner of devices and operating systems; while HP is in good shape to build all manner of cutting edge devices and leverage their business customer base to introduce webOS powered devices such as the HP Touchpad, one might wonder if webOS is the right choice.

    I mean, isn’t it dead yet?

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    What Is WebOS?

    The HP Touchpad, the savior of webOS? There are three versions of webOS: the original version released on the Palm Pre before the device’s ignominious dismissal at the hands of the mobile phone buying public (although the OS got good reviews); the second release, which attempted to overcome some of the issues with the original operating system; the third, a dedicated tablet platform.

    Like Android, webOS is derived from Linux, and like Android it has an easy to understand user interface that takes advantage of multi-touch and offers easy to manage multi-tasking. The original release delivered a few interesting innovations to mobile phones, such as the ability to combine the inboxes from multiple email accounts, and this function, Synergy, has been carried over to the tablet version.

    Now, given the similarities and differences between the two versions you might think that this is a mobile-come-tablet operating system that isn’t quite ready for the big time in either arena. While this the mobile phone version of the operating system met with limited success, there is plenty to argue in favor of webOS becoming a major choice of tablet OS over the coming years, not least because it is owned by HP.

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    The Scramble for Tablet Market Share

    Prior to the release of the iPad in 2010, the tablet market was a bizarre two-tier playing field, with portable Internet devices at one end of the scale and expensive Windows-based tablets and hybrid devices at the other.

    As other companies witnessed the arrival of the iPad and the speed with which these devices were purchased the scramble began for companies such as Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others to release their own tablet devices using the Android operating system. They were desperate to stake a claim in what was a burgeoning market, and thanks to their existing mobile phones they already had the means to upscale production to tablets. Acer, Asus, and other laptop makers conversely scaled down.

    HP also clearly identified the tablet market as something they wanted to be a part of and factored this into their capture of the webOS property when they purchased Palm. Both HP and Palm had previous experience in the production of portable devices like PDAs and specialized hardware running embedded Windows CE for inventory and other forms of measurement and control.

    While webOS might currently seem to be the outsider in the tablet game, HP has the muscle, determination and crucially the business leverage to get webOS devices purchased where it matters – at enterprise level.

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    HP and Businesses

    In the business world there are two main suppliers of IT hardware: HP and Dell. While Dell has a range of Android tablets and is rumored to be working on its own ARM-powered tablet for Windows 8 in 2012, HP is already ahead of the game in this sector with the release of the Touchpad, the webOS-powered tablet that is natively optimized for business use.

    Both companies provide servers, desktops and laptops to businesses, government agencies and non-profits around the world, with HP selling a mammoth 60 million PCs every year. It is this business and enterprise market that HP aims to target with webOS.

    Consumers shouldn’t underestimate the strength of the enterprise market. Apple has been making strong overtures to major corporations and government departments about using the iPad as a portable option, but with little in the way of integration with existing Windows systems this is often seen as a waste of resources, especially in the current economic climate.

    HP is already planning on introducing webOS to their Windows computers, too, providing a similar interface as the iOS-styled Mac OS X Lion. Combine this with the fact that their Touchpad tablets are optimized for email and Internet and enjoy full native support across HP servers and PCs and you suddenly have a once-dead operating system that isn’t just waiting for the next bolt of lightning, it’s sat up in bed reading Mary Shelley and waiting for the next multitasking opportunity.

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    The Tablet Platform: A Matter of Life and Death for WebOS?

    WebOS isn’t just another failed mobile phone platform, and it doesn’t have to be consigned to history as an afterthought. It might not be perfect just yet, and HP knows that there is some work still to do. But webOS could prove to be the dark horse in the tablet race. We’ve already seen that some commentators have declared the race over, with the iPad as victor, but clearly this is ridiculous unless the tablet market ends tomorrow.

    HP clearly understands the strengths and shortcomings of the platform, and they understand that Apple is working hard to introduce the iPad into the enterprise market. With webOS HP has the perfect antidote, and all they have to do is successfully leverage their existing relationships and infrastructures to not only protect their market but plant a big sign that tells Apple (and Google Android) that they are treading on land that has already been claimed by webOS.