From HP to LG: WebOS Finds Yet Another Home

In totally weird and unexpected news, LG plans to buy key parts of WebOS from HP, aiming to use the operating system in televisions.

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HP, LG/Techland Illustration

In totally weird and unexpected news, LG plans to buy key parts of WebOS from HP, aiming to use the operating system in televisions.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but LG will get the WebOS “source code, associated documentation, engineering talent and related websites,” while HP will hang on to the “cloud computing assets, including source code, talent, infrastructure and contracts.”

HP will also keep all patents related to WebOS, but will license them to LG, and will also continue to provide support for existing WebOS devices, such as the HP TouchPad. WebOS will remain open source, and LG will contribute to those projects.

So begins another chapter in the tormented history of WebOS. Created by Palm, WebOS debuted on the Palm Pre smartphone in 2009 and received lots of love from the tech press, who were craving a credible alternative to Apple’s iPhone. The device never gained much traction though, mainly because of poor marketing, a lack of apps and issues with hardware build quality.

HP bought Palm in 2010, with plans to revitalize WebOS for phones, tablets and even printers. The company spoke of bringing the operating system to cars, fridges and stoves as well. But HP never overcame the issues that dogged Palm, including the lack of apps on the platform. And by the time HP got around to launching the Veer smartphone and TouchPad tablet, the hardware already seemed outdated. The company was also having serious management problems at the time, and while former CEO Leo Apotheker had planned to abandon WebOS entirely, current CEO Meg Whitman turned it into an open source project.

That brings us to the present, in which LG plans to use a four year-old OS in a format it wasn’t made to inhabit. It’s not exactly clear how this will work. When asked by The Verge how the company would take advantage WebOS, LG CTO Skott Ahn gave a muddled answer about using it “together” with Android, claiming that WebOS has a better user experience. When asked what the core advantage of WebOS was, Ahn had no answer at all.

One other concern: All signs point to a future where users can have a consistent experience across phones, tablets and televisions. Apple’s pursuing it with the iOS-based Apple TV box (and a rumored television set). Google’s pursuing it with the Android-based Google TV. Microsoft’s pursuing it with services like Xbox Music and Video, which work on Windows Phone and Windows 8 as well as the Xbox 360. I don’t see how WebOS helps LG on this front unless the company starts making WebOS phones and tablets, which is possible but highly unlikely.

Yes, everything about this transaction is weird, and WebOS hardly seems saved. But at least we get to watch another chapter unfold.