HP Touts WebOS, Questions Android’s Openness

HP Touts WebOS, Questions Android’s Openness

HP said it plans to continue optimizing WebOS, as it questions Android’s appeal, to revive its brand and ramp up competition against Apple and Google.

At a company meeting Wednesday, CEO Meg Whitman said even though WebOS’s development will take a few years, “the industry really needs another operating system,” believing HP’s platform will attract top developers.

Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems dominate the app market, but iOS is a closed platform, and Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, approved by the Department of Justice this week, is leading to speculation that Android could soon become essentially closed as well.

“I think that Android may end up as a closed system because of [Google's] relationship with Motorola,” said Whitman, who has also criticized Android’s fragmentation in the past.

Whitman’s remarks angle WebOS as a true alternative for up-and-coming developers who want an open-source platform, meaning a major new competitor for Apple and Google.

HP had high hopes for WebOS when it purchased the software’s maker Palm in 2010, but the platform couldn’t propel the ill-fated TouchPad tablet to success, and the device and its OS were soon pulled from shelves altogether despite the platform’s good reviews.

Amid inner management turmoil, HP hired Whitman as its new in September of 2011, and announced in December the company would offer WebOS as an open platform, placing the responsibility for the success of the platform squarely on Whitman’s shoulders.

There’s a lot of pressure on WebOS, but it stands a solid chance of succeeding if developers find it easy and lucrative to create apps for, and still keep up high security standards. Android faces scrutiny over its privacy practices and repeated malware attacks, and consumers might flock to another open-source OS that’s safer.

Further, Google bolstered its legal protections for Android with Motorola’s sizable portfolio of technology patents, but the $12.5 billion acquisition could give Motorola a major advantage over other phone makers, despite Google’s reassurances to the contrary.

Rival manufacturers like Samsung and HTC might gravitate toward another open-source OS that doesn’t seem to give preference to one of their competitors, another hopeful sign for WebOS.

Beyond Android, however, WebOS must contend with other platforms aiming to gain ground with consumers and developers. Windows Phone will likely gain in share this year through its boost through a revitalized Nokia. Developers looking to reach a growing audience with their apps could look closer at Microsoft’s offering, making it paramount that WebOS make inroads with developers quickly.

The company is rolling out revisions to WebOS slowly as it transitions the platform to an open-source resource, but with more Android phones being released and Windows gaining steam, the audience for it could be shrinking.

With Whitman at the helm, HP is standing behind its decision to retain and develop WebOS, and while the move is risky, the payoff could be big, making HP a serious contender once again.

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