Why HP killed WebOS: “No apps, no sales”

They could've been a contender, eh?

I was going to write a big post on HP and WebOS. I was working away on a ‘What now for WebOS?’ post … until I caught the news that this, too, was dead. Here’s PC World’s overview: HP’s WebOS crashes under Apple, Android Pressure.

Goodness me it’s been quite a week for big movements.

Robert Scoble neatly summed up HP’s news thus:

Windows 8 wins
Oh, HP, kills TouchPad after only a month in market
The third party developers are in charge.
No apps, no sales.

I think this is the (very costly) new reality for manufacturers.

Scoble also points out something I think we’ve known for quite sometime — developers are only thinking about 3-4 platforms, period. That’s it. No more. He quotes one leading developer thus:

Developers like him keep telling me “Apple is first in my mind, Google is second, and I don’t have time for #3, but if I do, looks like Microsoft has the best future.”

For Microsoft read Nokia. Nokia’s made themselves business critical to Microsoft’s success in the mobile ecosystem. Although Scoble is no doubt operating under a highly polarised Silicon Valley viewpoint, it’s a viewpoint that’s increasingly becoming de facto across the Western world. Once America got control of the mobile ecosystem, it was game-over for anyone else not willing or capable of innovating at the same pace.

The legions of Symbian fanatics who still passionately hate Nokia’s Stephen Elop may come to see a different point of view when Nokia is growing firmly under Windows.

But dear me, what about HP? What a way to screw it up, gents.

I really did buy the HP koolaid. I was hoping for a bit of a fight from them. I was hoping for some decent corporate venturing to challenge the status quo. There’s no doubting that WebOS is was phenomenally nice. I did enjoy playing with the tablet back in Barcelona. Back in March I remember meeting the enormously charasmatic Richard Kerris, who headed up WebOS developer relations, who explained that HP was aiming to have 100 million WebOS devices in the market by the end of 2011 (mostly through integrating it into printers and also adding support for the desktop).

Here’s what I commented back then:

A hundred million devices? That’s easily achievable if you assume some nice healthy Palm device sales and you include most of the company’s consumer desktop/laptop and printer sales.

I bought the concept, though. I was sitting back and waiting though. Unfortunately it seems everyone else — especially the developers — were doing the same thing.

It just goes to show that one quarter can change everything. It was only a few months ago I was in San Diego watching HP’s Jon Rubenstein absolutely slate Nokia on stage. Now HP is no more as far as we’re all concerned. Apart from the odd printer and scanner (and of course, data centres), they’re largely irrelevant to the mobile world now.

I’m frankly embarrassed.

I’m embarrassed that a company with revenues of one hundred and twenty-six BILLION dollars (thanks, Wikipedia) couldn’t hack it in the consumer mobile space. It would be laughable if the sad reality wasn’t so sobering. Come on, seriously? Is it really that difficult to compete? Or did you ham-string everything from the start with the usual corporate shenanigans?

The new reality of apps-apps-apps is confirmed once more with HP’s demise in mobile.

WebOS isn’t completely dead though. Not completely. It looks somebody else might be able to license WebOS in future. Don’t hold your breath.

Sidenote: What about RIM?

This is the real issue that we’re all going to need to deal with shortly. It’s one that’s been bugging me for quite a while. I have been largely silent as I’ve been observing the market. I’m such a huge fan of the devices — their latest BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a masterpiece of messaging joy. I worry that they won’t be able to escape the Scobleist Reality of apps, apps, apps. How many times do you need folk to say, “RIM is dead,” before it starts to become reality? Thankfully RIM is not dead. They’re number-one in a gazillion markets — they practically own Latin America’s smartphone market. They still continue to shift a massive amount of product. People are still buying their phones. We’ll need some good leadership from RIM over the next 3-4 quarters.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

3 replies on “Why HP killed WebOS: “No apps, no sales””

Firstly, before talking about the HP decision.. That is a great post I read and it was a great start up as my morning dose!

Web OS saw the dramatic dislike due to inadequate and ineffective hardware. I also opine that the target to popularize the Web OS was achievable. But the scenario resulted in the present pathetic condition of the predecessor of Palm OS. Thanks for the share on this topic. 

It takes time to build a platform. A platform is hardware, OS, apps, and customers.

Hardware is tangible and there are well-proven paths to making it happen.

Operating systems are difficult, but there are well-proven paths to making it happen.

Third-party developer ecosystems are HARD, and there are no well-proven paths as developers are fickle, but there are plenty of documented best practices. The first of which is that it takes a lot of TIME and a lot of MONEY. Frankly, I don’t think HP really got to the point of spending time and money on the developer ecosystem before pulling the plug.

Third-party developers were just beginning to report the ‘touchpad effect’ – a huge upswing in sales as a result of new hardware. HP did not give the developers time to see that profitability, to get more of their apps out on the market, and to attract new developer blood to the platform. HP also did little to stimulate the market to begin with: where are the free headline apps from big name brands, part-funded by HP to make them happen? Sorry, but “Angry Birds” does not a platform make.

Customer acceptance feeds into the developer ecosystem in a virtuous cycle. More customers buying apps leads to more developers building apps. Launching a product in the middle of summer and then killing it with price cuts and pre-announcements of new hardware is not a good way to shift product and build up a customer base.

[…] Warum ist webOS also genau gescheitert? Ich weiß es nicht, denke aber es liegt an der Hardware. Wenn man im Sommer 2011 ein Gerät (TouchPad) auf den Markt bringt, welches Apple in der Form schon vor einem Jahr draußen hatte und dessen Nachfolger sogar unterlegen ist, dann muss man beim Preis punkten. Hat HP aber nicht, ein TouchPad kostete zum Start so viel, wie ein iPad 2. Und die Bemühungen von HP haben sich in Grenzen gehalten, da hätte man wesentlich mehr für die Entwickler machen können, hier hätte man ein paar Risiken eingehen müssen. Auch wenn sich das in der Zukunft vielleicht wieder ändert, im Moment zählt neben dem Produkt auch das App-Angebot. Developers […] “Apple is first in my mind, Google is second, and I don’t have time for #3, but if I do, looks like Microsoft has the best future.” Robert Scoble (via) […]

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