The tech world was rocked earlier this week when Google announced its purchase of Motorola Mobility, but that was nothing compared with HP's bombshell. HP announced in one fell swoop that it is abandoning both the PC and mobile device markets. PCs will live on, but the demise of WebOS eliminates what should have been a major player in the mobile field.
Not quite seven weeks ago HP launched the WebOS-based TouchPad tablet with great fanfare and high hopes. It was immediately hit with customer backlash over poor performance, and received tepid reviews. HP cut the price three or four times in the course of a week and still couldn't drive demand, leading Best Buy to complain about being stuck with hundreds of thousands of unsold TouchPads and demanding that HP buy them back.
WebOS will go down in history as the mobile OS that was technically capable--or even superior--but just couldn't find the right combination of vision, hardware, and marketing to capture any interest in the market. When HP bought the flailing Palm, many thought it would be just the thing WebOS needed to compete head to head with Apple's iOS and Google's Android. We can see how well that worked out.
WebOS could have been a contender. WebOS should have been a contender. HP had the financial resources, marketing muscle, and corporate presence to develop and promote WebOS and take the reins from RIM as the de facto mobile OS for business. Instead, it launched a half-baked tablet, scrambled around for seven weeks with no coherent marketing vision, and threw in the towel without even putting up a decent fight.
HP was forced to look at the mobile landscape and decide that it just isn't capable of competing, so instead it pulled the plug on WebOS and the TouchPad...and then there were three. There are a ton of tablets out there, but when you step back and look at the big picture there is really just the iPad, Android, and Windows.
You could debate that the BlackBerry PlayBook with its QNX OS is a fourth option, but I disagree. The PlayBook has not fared much better than the TouchPad, and RIM itself is on life support. I won't be surprised if the company isn't around this time next year, but in the meantime it should follow HP's lead and bail out of the tablet market to focus on its core business.
Right now, and for the immediate future, the tablet market is really just the iPad market. It is a one-horse race where Apple is really only competing against itself while HTC, Samsung, Motorola, and others scramble around fighting for a second place that makes up a fraction of a fraction of the iPad market.
When Windows 8 hits the street, it may be able to give Apple some competition. The convergence of Windows across smartphones, tablets, and PCs will make a compelling proposition for many businesses and consumers if Microsoft gets it right.
Only time will tell. R.I.P. WebOS.