Did HP just give webOS 'a death sentence'?

Analysts don't expect major hardware vendors to build products using the OS

As an open-source project with uncertain backing, webOS has a tough road ahead of it, analysts said on Friday.

"This is a death sentence but an honorable death sentence," said Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis. "HP is saying, 'We're washing our hands of this but making it available for anyone to play with as they see fit.'""

He was referring to HP's announcement Friday that it will contribute the code behind webOS to the open-source community. But the company left a number of unanswered questions that have left experts to wonder if webOS has a future.

For instance, while HP said it would "continue to be active" in supporting and developing webOS, it didn't say how exactly it would support it. Since a successful mobile OS would likely require significant backing, analysts wondered if webOS will attract enough investment. "It can't exist by itself as a science experiment," said Will Stofega, an analyst with IDC. "It has to get support."

Such backing will be key for developing the OS and for attracting application developers.

"If you were really looking to go out and build an ecosystem around your product, this probably isn't the one with the greatest traction," Greengart said. A phone maker targeting markets in the West, where the user expectation is "gimme apps or gimme death," is not going to choose webOS, he said.

That's because even under Palm and HP, webOS struggled to attract application developers.

Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates agreed that without a driving force behind webOS, it's unlikely to be successful. "Why is Android successful? It's not because it's open source. It's because it's driven by Google," he said.

WebOS runs the risk of following other Linux-based projects that have tended to progress slowly, he said. "The mobile world works at 10 times that pace," Gold said.

HP didn't specify which open-source license it would release the code under. Jay Lyman, a senior analyst at The 451 Group, expects it to use an Apache license. It's one of the more permissive licenses, allowing developers to mix open source with their own proprietary code and sell products that use the combined code, he said.

HP also did not say when it will make the code available. Some efforts to move proprietary code to open source drag on for lengthy periods of time, as with Nokia's Symbian OS. However, that was a complicated situation since Nokia had some of its intellectual property wrapped up in the code, Lyman said.

He expects the process for webOS to be less complex, and since it is being open sourced by HP, a major user and supporter of Linux, the code might be released by the first half of next year, he said.

Still, questions remain about which hardware vendors will use webOS.

Some analysts said the availability of the webOS code might prove attractive to vendors who were made nervous about Google's acquisition of Motorola, or, like HTC, have struggled to differentiate their Android products. Still, few expect one of the top mobile phone makers to end up using the software.

LG, which has been late to the smartphone market and has a relatively small market share, might take an interest in webOS, said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with The 451 Group. A company looking to build a device like Amazon's Kindle Fire, which is not dependent on existing applications and services, might also be interested, he said. "There is a hunger for a high-level OS that is low cost and doesn't come with baggage," he said.

WebOS could also prove attractive to vendors worried about the increasing legal attacks on Android. "WebOS might represent an option that has less of that IP baggage," Lyman said.

Hobbiests and developers are also likely to show some interest in webOS, Greengart said. In addition, hardware vendors in China might use webOS in that country, he said.

HP itself might also develop products using the software. CEO Meg Whitman on Friday told The Verge that HP might make tablets using webOS. However, an HP spokesman later downplayed the idea, saying the company won't rule out making webOS-based hardware, but that it's not making any commitments.

The analysts all praised webOS for its quality, and they blamed its problems on its late arrival to market. "It's great," said IDC's Stofega. "There's really no doubt about that."

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags open sourcemobiletabletssoftwareHewlett-Packardhardware systemsMobile OSes

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?