The death of webOS: What it teaches us

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Last April we saw HP acquire Palm at $1.2 billion with the intention to double down on webOS which at that time was hailed as the choice for future tablets, computers and even printers.

HP had the resources in place to transform webOS into something great and webOS had everything to position HP as a market leader in mobile space. However, within less than 16 months, HP surprised the tech world by announcing its decision to kill the webOS devices. .

So what really went wrong and what does it teach us about the mobile market place?

What really went wrong: A Sneak Peek

When Palm introduced webOS along with Palm Pre in 2009, the smart phone market was uncluttered and receptive. WebOS seemed to have everything to take on the iPhone – a brilliant user interface, touch-friendly navigation, multitasking support, an apps ecosystem, unique messaging features and even iTunes support.

At that time there were no other smart phones which could match the iPhone when it came to apps, multimedia and user-friendly interface. Android was not as big as it is today. So Palm Pre was hailed as iPhone Killer featuring the best of the iPhone and the BlackBerry. However, by the time Palm Pre hit the market in partnership with sprint, the mobile market space had changed dramatically.

Other brands including Nokia, HTC, RIM and Samsung had made significant progress, churning out BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones with better cameras, larger screens and more capacity than the Pre. We also saw Google’s Android OS catching up fast and gaining rapid traction among app developers. Another major setback for Palm Pre was the launch of iPhone 4G around the same time with better features, superior UI, richer portfolio of application and better storage capacity.

Though Palm Pre featured a great OS, due to shortcomings in the hardware and bad market timing, Sprint and Palm partnership failed to create an impact. Due to exclusive contract with Sprint, Palm could not extend the availability of webOS to other carriers. Perhaps the biggest mistake which we think deterred the success of webOS was the delay in launching developer’s program. By the time Palm had announced it, Android market had already captured the attention of developers.

So when HP bought Palm, it was considered a rebirth for the webOS. At several instances, we heard HP voicing its commitment to further enhance the WebOS platform, continue to release Pre smart phones and extend the platform to other products, including tablets and printers.

In February 2011, HP unveiled HP Veer 4G, the HP Pre 3 and HP Touchpad, the first webOS tablet. Veer 4G was an instant flop due to bad hardware. Though the Pre 3 sounded very promising, it was never launched. The most hype and hope surrounded the Touchpad and again, it seemed like it could take on Apple’s market leader. The tablet seemed like an ideal medium for WebOS, with its fluid graphics and gesture-based controls. However it was a huge dissappointment due to its bulky hardware, slow performance and lack of interesting apps.

So it’s not just about a great OS!

In conclusion, what we feel is that the issue has never been with the webOS Operating System throughout its history. It was a combination of other factors which led to its failure – lack of focused marketing efforts, failure to attract hardware and application developers along with the bad timing. Perhaps the biggest mistake was the timing of the announcement! Announcing a product six months prior to its launch without a well defined execution and development strategy to compliment it gave enough time for the competitors to kill it. It was a costly mistake in the fast-moving mobile world. WebOS’s failure is a lesson for other tech companies–especially those in the mobile space– to learn from. The greatest take away is that however good the Operating System may be, without a good application development and marketing strategy, a product cannot survive in today’s smart phone market.

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