>Is WebOS a Tech Curse?

>It was a dark and stormy night in January 8th of 2009, when Jon Rubinstein, CEO of Palm, took the stage to announce what would be the scourge of his company. Ok, it wasn’t dark or stormy, but the WebOS story did not pan out how Rubinstein thought it would be. WebOS would become a tech curse, and every horror story starts with the origin.

Before 2009, Palm had experienced pretty good amount of success. They had truly cornered the Personal Digital Assistant market with its famous Palm Pilot line, even beating Apple’s entrant, the Newton. They successfully hit a huge level of brand recognition, making all competitors be known as Palm Pilots as well. Then, the PDA started to evolve into what became the first iterations of the smartphone.

In 2002, Palm released the Treo 180, their first foray into the very infantile smartphone market. The Treo and it’s well known Palm OS was now in direct competition with Research in Motion’s BlackBerry series, offering a pretty similar feature set. The two were the main players in the smartphone world for the first few years, with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile jumping as well. Ultimately, the BlackBerry won the race, it’s Enterprise service really capturing the hearts of businesses, the only people truly using smartphones at this time. Palm kept pumping out Treos, and then the Centro series later on with some small success.

During this time, a man by the name of Jon Rubinstein was hard at work at Apple, developing their blockbuster series of iPods, which essentially created and then dominated the MP3 player market landscape. In 2005, Rubenstein left Apple, just two years before Apple changed the smartphone market forever with the introduction and insane amount of success of the iPhone. That same year, Rubinstein joined the ailing Palm and went into R&D mode, having famously never touched an iPhone.

Two years later, Rubinstein stole the show at CES 2009 with the announcement and demonstration of Palm’s labors: The Palm Pre running WebOS. It was a Trojan Horse of self destruction. Many people thought that WebOS had the potential to take back the chunk of marketshare that Palm had lost and Apple had grabbed. It had the potential to drown out the relatively fledgling Android operating system. Then the trouble started.

The Pre came out far too long after its announcement, dropping a whole 6 months later. It was exclusive to the US at first, and only on Sprint, the third largest carrier in the country. Upon arrival, it sold well, but nowhere near as much as some of it’s competition of the time, like the Motorola Droid and of course the iPhone. The Pre received mixed reviews, most of which praised the looks and potential of the device, but renouncing the very plasticy and not well-made hardware and lack of third-party app support. The Pre then went to Verizon and AT&T as the Pre Plus, selling even less than the Sprint version did. Things continued to go downhill for Palm. They were losing money, when the iPhone and Android were both growing with no end in sight.

Then, in April of 2010, HP announced that it would buy Palm for about $1 billion, ending the many rumors of many other companies buying the company (most notably Nokia). WebOS had claimed its first victim. HP said that they would “double down” on WebOS, and promised a huge push of WebOS even into the desktop PC space. Later on, the Pre3 would be announced, and so would WebOS’ Waterloo: The HP Touchpad.

The Touchpad came out into a market that has been dominated by Apple. Even with the insane growth of Android in the smartphone world, competitors running Google’s OS have not been able to create even a small dent into the iPad’s sales. The Touchpad never saw any success. The reviews were similar to the original Pre: Cool looking software, cheap hardware, and no apps in sight. Just weeks after a full release, HP talked about newer versions with 4G radios and better processors, and the haunted tablet was hit with many price cuts.

And today, WebOS claimed another victim. HP has announced that it will no longer make any WebOS smartphones or tablets. WebOS may still be licensed to another company yet, but who would touch an operating system that has felled one company and was unsuccessful with one of the world’s highest selling PC makers? More importantly, no small developer with any business sense would choose to develop for a platform that has twice been killed because no one has developed for it. There’s hopefully little chance that we’ll see this cursed piece of technology come back to life, but how many times have we said the same for Freddy and Jason? And how many times have we seen thoroughly disappointing sequels that failed to be a success at all? Sound familiar?


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