HP Still Thinking On WebOS

HP WebOS LogoHP has still hasn’t decided what to do with WebOS but appears to be taking the decision seriously. At an all-employee meeting last night with the WebOS team in Sunnyvale, new CEO Meg Whitman, reportedly said, “It’s really important to me to make the right decision, not the fast decision,” and “If HP decides to do this,we’re going to do  it in a very significant way over a multi-year period.

Setting this against reports coming out of Reuters that HP had engaged with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to sell WebOS for just hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than the $1.2 billion HP paid for Palm, it seems clear that Meg Whitman is seriously evaluating all the options for the future of the mobile operating system. She’s reportedly also said, “The question now before us is what do we do with webOS software and do we come back to market with webOS devices? It obviously will not be the same device but it will be version 2.0.”

What does seem to be clear is that any future thoughts focus on tablets rather than mobile phones. At the all-hands meeting, Whitman reportedly said that, “Things get more complicated if you add in phones.” While the TouchPad may continue, it sounds like Pre and Veer are dead as product lines whatever happens, but you never know.

On one hand, it’s easy to criticise HP for continuing to dither, but to me it appears that Meg Whitman is doing a proper evaluation of the options available, rather than taking the somewhat whimsical approach take by her predecessor Leo Apotheker. If WebOS is retained by HP in addition to the PSG group, it will be one of the biggest corporate turnarounds in history!

4.2 Million WebOS Users?

HP TouchPadOver the weekend, an amazing piece of detective work by the WebOS Internals team and some crowd-sourcing via Twitter has revealed that there approximately 4.2 million WebOS users, give or take.

Every WebOS phone or tablet user has to create a profile in order to use their device. Each profile has a unique identifier, a number that appears to simply increment by 1 as each new profile is created. Early Palm Pre adopters have identifiers typically in the 10,000s whereas those who started with the TouchPad are in the milllons. The profile identifier cannot normally be seen by the user but a Homebrew program called Impostah, developed by Rod Whitby and WebOS Internals, allowed this number to be revealed.

Using Twitter, WebOS owners were encouraged to come forwards with their identifier and the date they signed up so that a graph of identifiers against time could be plotted, showing the rise of WebOS and key moments in the timeline, such as the release of new devices. The graph, courtesy of WebOS Internals, is shown below and what you can see is a fairly steady rise reaching around 4.2 million. The most notable point is probably when HP had the TouchPad firesale and the graph climbs steeply. Click on the graph for more detail.

Graphing HP WebOS Usage

The number of profiles is slightly ambiguous when trying to convert to numbers of users or number of devices because while you can only have one phone per profile, you can have a phone and a tablet. For example, if you had both a Veer and a Pre 3 you would need two profiles, but if you had a Pre 3 and a TouchPad you’d only need one profile. Obviously, there are also accounts that have become dormant when the owner has moved to another platform.

In comparison to iOS and Android, both of which have in excess of 100 million users each, the 4 million-odd WebOS users are a drop in the ocean. Regardless, the graph shows that there was slow but steady adoption of a little under 2 million per year. Of course, HP continues to dither over the future of WebOS.

The WebOS Internals team are a bunch of hackers (in the best sense of the word) who created a whole Homebrew ecosystem under the Preware moniker that allowed Pre owners to add easily add patches and other software outside of the official App Catalog.  They’re probably WebOS’s best last chance.

Ubuntu Linux Heads for Smartphones and Tablets

ZDNet is reporting that Canonical is intending to make the next release of Ubuntu, 12.04, a LTS (Long Term Support) release with intention of then expanding Ubuntu beyond desktops and laptops into smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, with a target of 2014 for an all-platform release.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, in an interview said, “This is a natural expansion of our idea as Ubuntu as Linux for human beings. As people have moved from desktop to new form factors for computing, it’s important for us to reach out to out community on these platforms. So, we’ll embrace the challenge of how to use Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets and smart-screens.” The full announcement is expected at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, which starts tomorrow and runs for a week in Orlando, Florida.

Having already been in discussions with partners for around 18 months, it seems that this is more than wishful thinking, but one can’t help feel that the whole Palm-HP-WebOS debacle bodes badly for any company wanting to get in on the smartphone and tablet space. If HP can’t make it happen with a solid OS and Zen of Palm, what hope has Canonical? When quizzed about this, Shuttleworth said that he saw “Android as its primary competitor…..We’ve also already heard from people who are already shipping tablets that they want Ubuntu on the tablet.” And of course, “Ubuntu already has a developer and customer base.”

While there’s no doubt that the mobile space is still maturing and there’s plenty of change still to come,  I have a hard time seeing Ubuntu on anything but a small niche of tablets and an even smaller niche of smartphones. iOS and Android have their foothold and Microsoft will be a solid third if Windows Phone 7 continues to deliver and Windows 8 delivers as expected. A fourth player is going to have difficulty making inroads, especially one as relatively unknown as Canonical and Ubuntu.

Smart TVs are a more plausible destination as the internal software is of less concern to the consumer. Most people buying a TV are looking at the exterior brand such as Sony, Samsung or LG, and not what’s inside, although this may change if a “Powered by Roku” or “Google TV inside” campaign runs. Plenty of change to come in this space too.

I wish Ubuntu every success.

HP Changes Its Mind

HP LogoAfter an “evaluation of strategic alternatives”, HP has decided not to either sell or spin off the Personal Systems Group (PSG). Given the plummet of the share price on the original review announcement and the subsequent departure of the then-CEO Leo Apotheker, this is not entirely unsurprising news.

The new CEO and HP President, Meg Whitman, said, “HP objectively evaluated the strategic, financial and operational impact of spinning off PSG. It’s clear after our analysis that keeping PSG within HP is right for customers and partners, right for shareholders, and right for employees. HP is committed to PSG, and together we are stronger.

Apparently the in-depth strategic review revealed that the PSG was tightly integrated throughout HP’s operations and brought significant value to HP’s brand and portfolio. The cost of extracting PSG from HP negated any possible benefits from the split of the organisation. There’s a surprise.

No news on whether WebOS will get a reprieve but more may be revealed at a this afternoon’s press call (5pm Eastern)

Update: based on the press call, it’s “wait and see” for a few months with regard to WebOS. There’s more over at PreCentral.

Decision Time For HP and WebOS

HP TouchPad

The rumours continue to swirl around HP and WebOS but AppleInsider is claiming that the fate of WebOS could be decided today (11th October). Reports suggest that the initial bidding process is complete and that an annoucement may be made after a meeting today to confirm the next step in the sale process.

There’s been much speculation as to who the prospective bidders might be. At various times HTC, Samsung, Qualcomm and Facebook have all been in the picture, some more realistically than others, and one of the current hot favourites is Amazon. Looking back at when Palm was up for sale and HP purchased it, BusinessInsider claimed there were five serious suitors, suggesting Apple, Lenovo, Research in Motion (RIM), Google and of course, HP. Which of these would still be interested given the success that HP made of Palm?

Some were after Palm’s considerable patent portfolio rather than WebOS itself, and the famous “smartphone” patent in particular. Even HP were pretty upfront about this with Mark Hurd saying that HP wasn’t buying Palm to be in the smartphone business. (How prophetic was that?)  Ultimately the nature of the sale may depend on HP’s feelings towards WebOS. Do they want to simply get as much as they can of their $1.2 billion back as quickly as they can, or do they want WebOS to succeed, even if HP was unable to make it a winner. Only time will tell.

Read related articles at GNC for HP, Palm and WebOS.

Crushing Demand for HP TouchPad in UK

It’s been an insane day and evening here in the UK if you were interested in HP’s TouchPad firesale. Rumours persisted throughout the day as to when various on-line retailers were going to cut the prices and there was disbelief that the prices were going to be as good as the US $100. Word leaked out that it was going to be £89 for the 16 GB and £115 for the 32 GB but no-one was ready to believe it.

The DSG group stores blinked first with Dixons, Currys and PC World all selling out within minutes, but the price had been confirmed as true. Carphone Warehouse then dropped their prices and within minutes were totally crushed under the load and the website went offline. Comet came on next and were slammed but many people managed to get orders in by refreshing the browser. I managed to snag a 32 GB one to upgrade my 16 GB but it took me an hour to get through all the steps. Amazon seemed late to the party with just the 16 GB on offer but also sold out pretty quickly.

No doubt more stores will drop their prices tomorrow and there will be another frenzy. HP.com is still to drop its prices and they should have a pile. The Pre 3 may also come to the firesale as well and I’ll snap one up if I can. But it tells you one thing…people are hungry for tablets but they can’t afford an iPad. For once it’s not all about apps, it’s about cash.

In exiting a market, HP has propelled the TouchPad to the #2 tablet slot. Can they capitalise on this and turn WebOS into a success or have they simply jumped the shark?

Microsoft Poaching webOS Developers

A few days ago we received the sad news that HP was discontinuing webOS devices.  The only good news out of that was for gadget lovers – HP has slashed prices on the recently released TouchPad (it’s already out-of-stock at Walmart online).  The bad news for HP, beyond the bad press and bad stock prices, was that Microsoft leaped on the news and immediately began recruiting webOS developers for their Windows Phone platform.

Microsoft’s Brandon Walsh reached out to webOS developers on Twitter, and began the process of bringing them over to Windows Phone.  He even went so far as to offer free phones and other tools.  At last check, he had received more than 200 replies.

While HP has killed off the hardware-making side of their webOS business, they are hoping to keep the software alive by licensing it to third-party hardware makers, as Google does with Android.  That means HP needs to keep these developers on board.  That will be difficult with no agreements in place yet to ensure the OS’s future.  Still, they are trying their best to maintain ties – see their blog post The Next Chapter for webOS.

Given the current state, it will be hard for HP to hold onto these developers, and given what they have already done, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t pull the plug on the software side of webOS at any moment.  This has been a short ride for HP and webOS, and I can’t help but think that they didn’t give it it’s deserved time and effort.  Consider it a premature death.

HP Getting Out of the PC Business?

HPToday HP announced they are discontinuing operation for webOS devices including the Touchpad and webOS phones. WebOS was originally developed by Palm and first released as the Palm Pre in 2009. In 2010 HP purchased Palm. The Touchpad and HP Veer and HP Pre 3 were all announce in February 2011. Unfortunately they couldn’t penetrate the market and sales were almost nonexistent. Best Buy ordered 270,000 HP Touchpads and according to various sites have only sold 25,000. Other companies like Walmart haven’t had any better sales for the webOS devices including the Touchpad. Reviews of the HP Touchpad said they were ok, but lacked an app eco system and at times performance was sluggish. Since they were originally around the same price the same as the iPad2 and the Galaxy Tab, the only reason to purchase it was if you preferred the webOs (Palm) operating system, unfortunately for HP not enough people did.

The other big news from HP which hasn’t been confirmed is that it is trying to spin-off it’s PC division entirely. HP is one of the founding companies of Silicon Valley so for them to even think about selling off their PC division is big news.  The growth in the smartphones and tablet market plus the downturn in the economy worldwide has definitely effected PC sales. PC growth over all has been very slow with worldwide shipments only growing 3% in the 2nd quarter of this year. Is this a sign of the general decline of the PC market are PC becoming trucks as Steve Job once said, or is it just part of the overall economic downturn. Once the world economy revives will the PC market also revive. The PC market depends on selling a lot because prices are so low there is very separation between success and failure. It is clear by HP actions that they believe the personal PC market is no longer profitable. Whether they are wrong or right only the future can say, but it is certainly a bold move.

Goodbye Palm and Thanks for the Ride

It’s finally the end of the line for Palm and WebOS. HP killed off the Palm name a few months ago and it now looks like it’s fatal for WebOS too.

In a press release today, HP reported “that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.

I’m writing this on a Pre 2 and there’s a TouchPad on my desk, the last in a long line of Palm devices, starting with a Palm III, followed by a IIIxe, a Sony Clie SJ30 and a Clie TH55, possibly the greatest PDA of all time. There was a Tapwave Zodiac 2 somewhere too. Then the era of the smartphone arrived with a Palm Treo 650 and 680, before the long wait for WebOS and the Palm Pre. That’s about fifteen years of close personal friendship.

There’s a small glimmer of hope that WebOS will continue without the devices or perhaps it will be picked up by another manufacturer, but let’s be honest, it’s not looking good.

Farewell, friend.

HP TouchPad Answers Critics

The HP TouchPad came on to the market with two main criticisms, first the lack of apps, and second, pricing was on a par with the iPad 2. Even with these two points, most reviews gave the TouchPad the number 2 tablet slot for WebOS’s ease-of-use.

A month on from the TouchPad’s launch, much of the original criticism can be deflected. HP has reduced the price of the TouchPad by $100 in the US and by similar amounts in most other territories, making the 16GB version $400 and the 32 GB $500. Early purchasers have been taken care of with a $50 credit to buy apps from the App Catalog.

As for the apps, a bundle of new apps get added to the App Catalog every day and there’s usually one or two key apps each week that round out the TouchPad’s portfolio. This week saw UPnP AV Player and a Google Reader client, TouchFeeds, released amongst others and while there are other similar apps in the App Catalog, these are the first that don’t deserve a beta version moniker. There are plenty of really good apps in the Catalog and there are more coming through as developers get to grips with the platform. Twitter app – check; Facebook app – check; Flickr app – check; ToodleDo app – check; digital music store app – check; ebay app – check; WordPress app – check. It’s definitely getting there.

There’s also some evidence that it’s beginning to pay off for developers who have invested in the platform. PreCentral reports that OneCrayon, developer of TapNote, has seen sales jump significantly since the TouchPad went on sale. Regrettably the graph that accompanies the article doesn’t have any units on the y-axis but it certainly looks impressive.

HP’s done something a little different as well. Each month it produces a digital magazine called Pivot, which showcases apps in a glossy setting. It’s even customised for the particular country, so the UK version is a little different from the US one. Overall, it’s a nice touch.

It’s looking up for the TouchPad and at $100 less that the iPad 2 with apps coming every day, it’s a bargain.