HP made a rather shocking, albeit somewhat expected (from me), announcement earlier this week in pulling out WebOS and their consumer computing in exchange for focusing on business computing. While the entire withdrawal from the PC market is a massive change in direction for them that bewildered me, the end of WebOS wasn’t so much for me.
Around April just prior to looking for a new job, a friend of mine suggested that I look into the WebOS platform when I was developing a web application. My original thought was to develop mobile applications first for Android then for the iPhone. However, he tried to convince me that WebOS was a good platform and that HP was hiring. In fact, another friend of mine around that time was approached by his friend inside of HP to perhaps work as a security architect for the WebOS platform. It seemed that HP was going to make a massive push in building up their war chest for WebOS.
In my stomach, things didn’t feel right.
And if my stomach doesn’t feel good, I know it’s not good.
Fast forward to the present where it only took a few months for HP to concede mobile to Google and Apple (in fact, the entire consumer market).
For myself, I’ve always had good instincts on making bets like this. So what was my gut telling me this time?
First, I barely heard about WebOS up until then. Maybe I heard it in passing, but in general I had no clue what it was. As someone keen in technology, if I don’t have much of a clue on something like this, what chance will the public at large have in adopting a technology?
Second, it’s not a platform that I probably could ramp up quickly. With Android, it had Java backing it (which is why Oracle is so keen on Sun and their lawsuit against Google). Even if the framework for Android would require a fair amount of time learning, not having to learn a language certainly boosts that time to productivity. I’m certain that other developers felt the same way, which is why Android, imo, has taken off with reasonable celerity.
Next, the market share for WebOS just did not exist to justify spending significant amounts of time learning. Without a doubt, many businesses probably concluded the same thing. Already I spend far too much time attempting to correct browser issues between Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer (and it’s various inceptions) and Safari. So if I wanted to delve into the mobile market, I would be forced to add more platforms to support. One typically is more than enough. Two is a headache. But after that, you better have the guaranteed money coming in to make supporting that platform worth it.
Finally, I think HP/WebOS just attempted to make a venture into this market far too late in the game. HP really isn’t perceived as the “cool company” to begin with anymore (Fiorina fucked that up long ago). So just dangling a new API in front of developers won’t attract them so easily.
Of course, this all goes back to the idea that software is what is driving this economy. Software defines a purpose for devices and the base platforms (i.e. OS, databases, etc.). Naturally though, for software to exist you need developers. And lots of them. However, once developers become committed to a few platforms, it’s going to be intrinsically difficult to move them away from those platforms. Despite whatever incentive HP attempted to put out, it apparently wasn’t good enough. I think the problem is that developers in general are pretty smart people. The best ones will want to use the best technology they see as something that will make their lives easier. If not for that factor, then the technology is required to have a coolness factor. Whatever WebOS was satisfied neither requirement, which made it doomed to fail from the beginning.
I was chatting with some coworkers a few days ago and commented on how HP had long lost its way mostly when Fiorina took the reigns. The problem was that the firm had been for engineers who built things for engineers. That culture practically was wiped out when Fiorina decided numbers were far more important than the core values of what HP was founded upon. It seems that over the years, HP never found those core values and it’s been hurting them. Very sad way to end a legacy.