WebOS’ troubled history with Hewlett-Packard will come to an end in January.
The widely regarded mobile platform has made its way through three companies over the past several years, never really being able to compete with the likes of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. HP inherited webOS in 2010 when it bought Palm for $1.2 billion, a move company officials hoped would bolster its standing in the booming mobile device market.
After never getting a handle on what they wanted to do with the operating system, HP officials in early 2013 sold the technology to LG Electronics, which said at the time that it wanted to use webOS in smart TVs.
Now HP officials say they are ready to shed any more involvement with the OS. The company has put a notice on its developer Website saying that it will end webOS cloud services support for devices running the operation and will shutter its app catalog on Jan. 15, 2015. That means for the remaining users of such devices as HP’s TouchPad tablet and Palm Pre 3 smartphone, the systems won’t shut down, but they have fewer than three months before they no longer will be able to receive updates, get support or load new apps from HP.
They also won’t be able to back up or restore devices via the cloud, set up new devices or retrieve lost passwords.
In a FAQ section on the HP site, officials noted that it has been three years since the company announced it would no longer make webOS smartphones or tablets, but that services were kept in place to give customers who were using these devices “a richer user experience. The user count has dwindled to the point where it is no longer viable to keep the services running. This does not disable the devices currently running in the field.”
It will mark an end to webOS’ long, strange journey with HP. In 2011, then-CEO Leo Apotheker said the operating system would be the technology that would make HP a force in the mobile device space. Apotheker expected webOS to challenge Android and iOS in the marketplace, promising that HP would put the platform into 100 million devices a year. He also envisioned webOS in a broad range of other systems, from PCs to cars.
Later that year, after poor sales of the TouchPad persuaded HP executives to stop developing the tablet and let the inventory go with fire-sale prices—which for a short time made the TouchPad a huge seller—Apotheker announced that not only was HP shutting down its webOS hardware unit, but it was also considering divesting itself of its entire PC business. The latter announcement helped lead to Apotheker’s ouster that year.
Meg Whitman, who took over as CEO, said HP was keeping the PC business as well as the webOS patents, though the idea of making webOS-based devices was dead. HP also open-sourced the operating system, leading to the creation of the open-source group Open webOS. (Whitman this month announced HP will split in two, making the PC and printer business its own company.)
That was taken over by LG when the company bought the technology from HP—which kept hold of the patents—in February 2013. In September, the Open webOS group changed its name to LuneOS and rolled out its latest release of the software—dubbed “Affogato”—with promises of new releases at the beginning of each month.
“The main focus of LuneOS is to provide an operating system which is driven by the community and continues what we love(d) about webOS,” the LuneOS group said in its September announcement. “We’re not trying to reach feature comparison with Android or iOS but rather building a system to satisfy basic needs in the mobile environment. Building a good quality mobile operating system from scratch is a hard job and is built in just the spare free time everyone involved in the project has. To get the best ratio between what we want and what we can do, we’re analyzing architectural decisions from both existing solutions we can base our work on and whether we have to write things from scratch.”
LG has put webOS into its smart TVs, and reportedly is considering putting it into a smartwatch. The company earlier this month put on smartwatch developer site a page that talked about webOS “now powering LG SmartWatch.” Officials with LG—which is developing smartwatches based on Android—quickly took the page down and told journalists that “there are many initiatives going on at LG at any given moment. The majority of them never see the light of day.”