The next few days will hail the arrival of HP’s TouchPad in stores all over the UK. It’s yet another tablet device come iPad wannabe that has been met with a lukewarm reception and average reviews. So, whats new? Well, it’s among the first of HP’s devices running the new webOS. That’s right, it’s not iOS, it’s not Windows, it’s not even Android. What it is is the new kid on the block. And it’s becoming a very crowded block at that. 

Is there room for another mobile operating system? What makes HP think it has a chance in a market where iOS is the consumer platform of choice and Android rules just about everywhere else? If it does have a chance, I wonder if the answer is to be found in that very question! But first some background; what is webOS exactly?

Palm, Pre-HP

WebOS is a mobile operating system, first developed by Palm, to run on their Palm-Pre smartphones. It won some acclaim for it’s neat handling of notifications and multitasking but ultimately the hardware let it down. Palm failed to succeed and was bought out by HP who carried on developing webOS with the intention of bringing it to a number of different platforms including phones, tablets and PC’s. The HP TouchPad is the first tablet computer to run the newly polished operating system.

Despite the initial reviews, there is a lot left to come from webOS. HP are already addressing some of the teething problems with regards to speed and, as a version 1.0 product, you have to expect the odd bump or two. It’s the long term future of the platform that we ultimately need to keep in mind.

The ‘web’ in webOS

WebOS has some interesting things going for it:

  • It’s got a native development kit (meaning it should be reasonably easy to port some software, such as games, from other platforms). This leaves windows phone 7 as the only major OS not to offer any native development option.
  • It uses HTML, CSS and JavaScript as its primary method of developing apps. This means it opens up app development to millions of web developers and allows for greater code reuse between say a website and an app. This is interesting in that it’s the same move Microsoft is making with its new Windows 8 platform. While the debate between native apps and web apps continues, there are now at least two companies who are trying to blur the boundaries.
  • It can run Flash.
  • HP are embracing the homebrew community; rather than locking down the software they are giving developers the keys to run riot. This is an interesting move and perhaps makes webOS more like Android, in terms of how much control you have over the hardware and OS, than any of the other mobile offerings.

Escape from Captivity

There is no doubt that WebOS does have some good things going for it. It’s been around for a while already, prior to it’s new found home with HP. It’s got a reasonably good set of features, a good development kit and the backing of a company intent on putting it on as many devices as possible…but are they HP only devices?

We started this post by asking the question: Is there any room for webOS in the current market? I think the answer depends on who and what webOS is for. As it stands, Android is the only real free-for-all mobile OS. In a way, it’s got that market all to itself. If you are a hardware manufacturer and you want a tablet operating system, Android is your only choice (unless you are Apple!). If webOS was to compete with Android for the hearts and minds of hardware manufactures then it could have a bright future indeed. At the very least it could eat into some of Androids market share. But for that to become a reality HP would need to free it’s OS and license it to other hardware companies. Interestingly it has very recently stated this exact intention, contrary to what it said less than a year ago.

Conclusion

Is webOS one to watch? Is there really any room for it in the  already crowded marketplace? Is it really any good? I’m not sure. I do think it has potential as a licensed OS but its success will depend on it’s ability to lure hardware manufacturers away from Android. If one thing is certain it is that its future is far from certain.

Do you own a TouchPad? Have you developed any apps for webOS? Do you intend to? Let us know what you think.