updated 06:55 pm EST, Sun January 1, 2012
WebOS may have been fated to struggle
New scoops both public and private have suggested that Palm, and later HP, may have ultimately had hurdles at the corporate level, not just technical, to ever challenging Apple or Google. WebOS didn't have either the needed management or engineers to bring it to completion, a New York Times source said, and there were few WebKit-savvy developers weren't already working on iOS or Android. This was compounded by a rush to finish the OS in nine months, which required taking shortcuts such as skipping proper APIs (app programming interfaces) until later, hurting the ability for third-party developers to sign on.
Even the idea itself may have been flawed at that point in time, senior development director Paul Mercer said. While WebKit is key to the high browsing speed and accuracy of Android's browser and Safari, basing a whole OS on the 2009-era engine meant it would never run as quickly as true native apps. The Palm Pre when it launched was praised for the basic OS but docked for its slow performance.
HP's buyout of Palm only made it worse, a former sales veteran at Palm and HP said. Despite promises of isolating the webOS team from bureauracy, HP allegedly committed the classic mistake of corporate acquisitions and put in large numbers of vice presidents that weighed webOS down. Initially, HP was said to be enthusiastic with plans for webOS everywhere, but its interest in webOS was likened to that for a "shiny new toy," even after bringing on "hundreds" of new engineers.
The string of executive departures after the HP takeover are now believed to have gutted the webOS team. Matias Duarte's jump to Google saw webOS lose its defining employee, one tipster said. The replacements were described as "fourth- and fifth-stringers." Design VP Peter Skillman's exit to Nokia had its own tangible impact.
Some have put the blame on Jon Rubinstein, a former Apple Senior VP and head of Palm for 2009 until it was acquired, after deciding to go with WebKit. The delays in getting devices like the TouchPad and Pre3 to market have sometimes been put at his feet. He has been characterized as a hardware expert that didn't have as much fortitude in improving the software side of development at Palm and later HP.
Others have put the blame on former CEO Leo Apotheker, who was fired after 11 months and, in August, killed webOS hardware as part of a strategy that was seen by many as an attempt to turn HP into his former employer, SAP. His predecessor Mark Hurd was much more hardware-focused and had played a role in the $1.2 billion Palm acquisition.
HP has hinted that webOS tablets may return in 2013. If so, they may only come back with a heavily redesigned platform and could have only some elements in common with what was seen in 2011.