Blog Post

What you can learn from the rise and fall of WebOS

Om Malik talks with Michael Abbott of Twitter at Mobilize 2011WebOS has had its fair share of ups and downs. The mobile operating system was developed by Palm in 2008. In the spring of 2010, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm and soon said it would put WebOS to work in its iPad rival, the Touchpad tablet. But in August 2011, just one month after the Touchpad’s launch, HP (s HPQ) announced plans to discontinue the Touchpad and all other WebOS devices. The WebOS technology is now up for sale, and its future is uncertain.

But there are still good lessons that can be learned from WebOS’ journey, says Michael Abbott, the former Palm executive who led the development of WebOS before joining Twitter as VP of engineering in May 2010. In an onstage conversation with Om Malik Tuesday at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco, Abbott said that he remains proud of his work on the WebOS platform and cited a few key takeaways from what’s happened with the technology.

  • With the right team, less can really be more. “Having a small, very focused team, a relatively small team, you can do a lot in a very short period of time,” Abbott said. “The majority of WebOS was developed in a year, by that was done by people who worked incredibly long hours to get that done.”
  • Tear down the development walls. WebOS ran into problems partially because the software was developed so independently of the hardware devices it was meant to run on, Abbott said. “When you develop both software and hardware and you bring it together, it’s important that all that’s done in concert. That’s one of the key lessons for me.”
  • A software project’s legacy can have a life after death. WebOS itself is still on the block, and it could well be acquired by another tech firm. But even if the operating system itself does not live on, aspects of it almost certainly will. “There were novel things we were doing around notifications, and how you could enable a notification to not distract what you were currently doing,” Abbott said, noting that he could see that being influential on how future technologies are developed. “I’m still hopeful. I’m an optimist. But we’ll see.”

5 Responses to “What you can learn from the rise and fall of WebOS”

  1. Mr. Abbott, this is really a lesson and a race to wisdom right? Its great you have come to this realization about hardware and software together:

    > “When you develop both software and hardware and you bring it together,
    > it’s important that all that’s done in concert.

    Steve Jobs quoted Alan Kay when the iPhone made its debut in 2007:

    > People who are really serious about software should make their own
    > hardware.

    That quote was in 1982, so there’s really nothing new other than the doodads at Google (Schmidt / Page / Brin) finally got wise to this point and acquired Motorola Mobility, but it might be too late (Bezos just advanced the game with the Kindle Fire today). Ha, and all those people who Google hires who have to answer brain teasers and jump through hoops during interviews with a lot of hubris inside Google = zero wisdom!

  2. J.Stewart

    Mobile carriers should buy webOS, then open-source it, to create a viable alternative to iOS and Android.

    Microsoft ruined its own chances, by making Windows Phone the most closed OS ever built. Then it put a bullet into the main open-source competitor, MeeGo. Microsoft’s mobile failure has also created fear in other companies who would otherwise be considering creating or releasing a mobile OS (eg HP with webOS).

    webOS can make it if it is opened up. It needs to be more open than Android.

  3. Graham Skelly

    I used quite a few apps in webos, and I never lacked for anything, email, web, text messaging and phone worked great, a data manager to manage some data I stored there and contacts, a great calendar. Webos did not die from lack of apps, it died from lack of hardware to purchase. I have a Palm pre, I have not been able to upgrade my phone. I a iphone killer I need a next gen Webos phone on sprint. and I would buy it. I have spent $40 on apps sometimes look at websites from adds on apps, and would look forward to upgrade some of the apps as new ones came along, I just need a phone to do that on.

  4. Peter Mullen

    Actually it was piss ass poor marketing that did WebOS in starting with the release timing, a complete brain dead ad campaign and a ridiculous and single-minded focus on comparing with the iPhone and the flapping seal fanboy culture. WebOS after 2.5 years is still superior in user experience to IOS and Android (And I’ve used all) but a lack of apps and not properly taking care of the developer community all contributed to its demise. I’m supremely pissed off to have to use inferior OS experience to get all the cool new apps being developed.