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WebOS is not dead, says HP executive

Mobile chief insists the firm is still in talks to license the platform for embedded applications in markets like transport


Published: 22 August, 2011

READ MORE: Hewlett-Packard | OS | WebOS

Hewlett-Packard insists it will continue to develop and support its webOS platform, despite axing the phones and tablets that run the former Palm system. SVP Stephen DeWitt, whose promotion last month to head up webOS and mobile devices proved a shortlived day in the sun, said in an interview: "The webOS is not dead. We're going to continue to evolve it, update and support it. We stand by it."

HP is said to prefer to sell on webOS, but unless it can resurrect rumored deals with Amazon or Samsung, outright buyers for a platform that has failed under two successive owners/strategies are unlikely to be forthcoming.

Plan B is to push the operating system into the rapidly growing embedded web market, which is seeing wireless internet access incorporated into huge numbers of devices from cars to health monitors to household appliances. Such products require a stripped-down, cloud-oriented OS rather than a fullblown smartphone-style system, and HP recently said it was already in talks with some players in the auto and home white box sectors. However, other options may have a headstart, notably Intel's MeeGo in the car industry, and various low footprint Linux distributions like MontaVista, Wind River (also Intel's) and the emerging Google Chrome OS. It is questionable how far HP will put significant resource into keeping webOS alive - despite the logic of gaining power on cloud devices - when it is refocusing its business on the safer waters of enterprise services and clouds.

DeWitt, however, refuses to see webOS being killed entirely, or consigned to HP's printers. It still has partnership and licensing deals under consideration, he said and there could be deals in finance, transportation and retailing. "The whole world isn't just about tablets and phones," he continued in the interview, as quoted by Bloomberg. "There are going to be appliances of so many different sizes and shapes in the future that are going to require a human interface for data."

The race for developers targeting these vertical market and non-phone devices is only just beginning, and DeWitt implied it was one where Apple would have no role. "If you want to jump into the Apple ecosystem and be one of the gazillion in there and live by Apple's rules, so be it," he said. "Our strategy is to be more open, to be a platform that has extensibility to other environments - not the closed architecture."

A further option, especially in the current climate, is to sell on or license the Palm patents. A recent letter to shareholders revealed that Palm had entertained an offer to buy its IPR alone for $800m, before it agreed to a takeover by HP. Handset makers were refusing to comment on any interest in the Palm arsenal, though LG said it was an "interesting scenario", before adding that "we never had any plans to acquire our own operating system".

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