The history of the webOS mobile system

We continue to explore mobile operating systems that have never been successful. There have already been texts about Ubuntu Touch, Sailfish OS and Firefox OS. Now let's remember webOS, which only worked on smartphones for three years and became a system for TVs and refrigerators.

Last chance for salvation

Palm was one of the leaders in the PDA market in the first half of the 2000s, along with its Palm OS, which was licensed by other manufacturers such as Sony. Over time, Palm began to run into financial problems and the operating system slowed down, so the company switched to Windows Mobile. But by 2007 Microsoft with its mobile system, it also gradually began to lag behind the market: PDAs were losing popularity, and a new trend was forming – smartphones.

The history of the webOS mobile system

On the verge of bankruptcy, two businessmen decided to invest in Palm – Fred Anderson from Apple and Roger McNamee. The company also recruited John Rubinstein, a prominent engineer and manager from Apple, who was primarily responsible for launching the iPod. The new team in 2007 decided to put their last resources into developing a modern operating system. It had to support multitasking and touch control with gestures, so development started from scratch. WebOS and the first Palm Pre smartphone were presented at CES 2009 in January.

The history of the webOS mobile system

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The system was built on top of the kernel Linux and used the WebKit engine. As conceived, applications for it could be released by any developer familiar with the web programming languages ​​HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The company saw this as its main advantage.

The webOS interface was adapted to be operated with a finger, not a stylus, and there was a lot of animation inside. The main screen did not display all the icons as in iOS. Instead, there was a bar with five favorite apps at the bottom, and above it were running apps that you could switch between – in Palm they were called cards. The list of all applications was opened through the fifth icon in the lower dock.

  • The history of the webOS mobile system

  • The history of the webOS mobile system

  • The history of the webOS mobile system

To confirm the name of webOS, the Palm Synergy function was added to the system – it allowed to combine calendars and contact lists from different services. Synchronization with Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other services was supported.

Mobile-Review has a more detailed overview of the webOS interface from Eldar Murtazin.

The first webOS smartphone went on sale in the summer of 2009. Palm Pre got a 3.1-inch screen with a resolution of 320 × 480 pixels. The small diagonal was compensated by a physical QWERTY keyboard, the smartphone was a slider. Also under the screen was a small touch button that read gestures.

The important point is that the Palm Pre had a capacitive screen with multitouch support. Then many smartphones, except for iPhone, used a resistive screen, which was triggered not by touch, but by strong pressing. Another difference of the Palm smartphone was support for wireless charging – for this it was necessary to purchase a special docking station and change the back cover.

The history of the webOS mobile system

Palm and journalists named webOS and the Palm Pre smartphone as the main alternative to products Apple, which actively developed the production of smartphones. At that moment iPhone 3G was relevant. The first Android – smartphone HTC Dream was presented just a few months before the announcement of Palm, so webOS was hardly compared to the new Google system.

Already in September 2009, a new smartphone was presented – the budget Palm Pixi. He got a very small 2.63-inch screen, QWERTY-keyboard and more modest specifications.

The history of the webOS mobile system

Photo Engadget

Second Life

On April 28, 2010, HP officially announced the purchase of Palm for $ 1.2 billion. Along with this, the rights to the entire line of smartphones and the webOS operating system are transferred. The deal was profitable for everyone: Palm gets money to develop the system, and HP opens up a business selling smartphones. In early July, the deal was closed.

In October 2010, HP introduced the new webOS 2.0-based Palm Pre 2 smartphone. At the same time, the company promised to update the old Palm Pre and Pixi smartphones to the second version of the system. In the future, the company will not keep this promise.

The history of the webOS mobile system

Outwardly, webOS 2.0 was not much different from the first version, all innovations were hidden inside the system. With the update, we added full-fledged multitasking and Flash Player for the browser. The Just Type function has appeared – something like a draft for typing, which can then be sent via mail or messenger.

The Palm Pre 2 smartphone also did not fundamentally differ from the first model – the same 3.1-inch screen and a sliding QWERTY keyboard. Therefore, I will not dwell on it.

In February 2011, HP announced plans to turn webOS into a universal platform for smartphones, tablets, netbooks and even printers. At the same time, the company introduced the first tablet on webOS, but under its own brand – HP TouchPad.

The history of the webOS mobile system

Even then, HP was trying to create an entire ecosystem using webOS. The presentation showed how you can start typing on a smartphone and continue on a tablet. It was also possible to receive calls directly on the tablet, if the phone was not at hand. A similar Continuity feature in iOS appeared only in 2014. And, of course, you could print documents from your webOS tablet to HP printers.

The HP TouchPad was excellent in specs, but webOS made sales of it poor. Therefore, in September it was sold for $ 100 – five times lower than the price at the start. So it was a great option to buy a good tablet and install Android on it.

It turns out that HP spent over a billion to buy Palm and lost a lot of money on the release of new smartphones and tablets. So in August, the company announced it was shutting down production of webOS devices. But only a year has passed since the purchase of Palm. Later in September, HP carried out a series of layoffs of employees who were involved in the development of webOS – more than 500 people were laid off.

The fate of webOS in the company was determined only at the end of 2011 – HP decided to open the source code of the system so that it would become available to everyone. However, the company had no plans to release devices on webOS.

The history of the webOS mobile system

In January 2012, HP announced Open webOS 1.0 open source – it was due out in September. The purpose of this decision is still not clear. HP promised to take part in the development and promotion of webOS, but in fact this meant the death of the system. Palm and HP have failed to attract developers with fully working smartphones and tablets on webOS, and without devices it is even more difficult. Of course, HP has promised to release Open webOS for the TouchPad and Palm smartphones, but that doesn't change the situation much.

Another way

Everything turned out to be not so bad. In November 2012, the company LG became interested in Open webOS to use it on TVs. And already in February of the following year, the company bought all the rights to the system, source code and patents from HP. The amount of the deal has not been disclosed, so it is still unknown whether HP was able to recover a sufficient portion of the money spent on the purchase of Palm, development of webOS and release of devices. In addition, HP lost $ 57 million in lawsuits due to the fact that it publicly announced plans to release many devices on webOS and did not keep the promise.

The history of the webOS mobile system

Photo The Verge

LG introduced the first webOS TVs at CES 2014. The system retained the principle of working with several applications in the form of cards, but in general it had little in common with the system that was on Palm smartphones and the TouchPad tablet. So the story of webOS as a mobile operating system ends there. The project failed as quickly as it started.

In September 2014, a new operating system, LuneOS, was released based on the open source webOS. A small team worked on the system, and updates were released until 2018, but no one considered the system as a serious project.


WebOS has taken root well on TVs, and LG has been developing the system ever since. In 2017, they even introduced refrigerators with webOS and large screens. But in smartphones and tablets, the system never found a place. This is not surprising: at the start of development, Palm was almost bankrupt, and HP had too many plans for the system, but in the end they did nothing.

Although webOS evolved at the same time as Android, iOS was in its infancy. Therefore, in this case, it cannot be said that the project failed due to strong competition. There are obvious problems with positioning – Palm smartphones were mainly sold in the USA. And Palm did not have a lot of resources to promote the devices and attract developers. The name Palm was once well-known in the PDA market, but past achievements can only attract fans. In any case, the history of webOS doesn't look so bad compared to Firefox OS or Ubuntu Touch.

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