The Lonesome Death Of WebOS

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I’d been hoping I wouldn’t have to say this a second time, but here we go again: WebOS is reaching a critical failure point and I doubt the technology will make it through the next two years. Why? Because WebOS just can’t grab the mindshare it needs to flourish.

According to Woot, the deal site sold 612 TouchPads during its impressive $100-off sale. During a similar sale in July, the Motorola Xoom, sold2,288. This, in microcosm, is where the TouchPad and WebOS is headed.

Before you argue that this sample size is far too small for a full assessment, think about the current price drops – over $100 in a few months – and also consider the last time you saw a TouchPad in the wild? The numbers may be skimpy but they’re all we have so far.

This sudden decline in HP TouchPad pricing isn’t unusual. Given that HP is now in charge of this product, it’s obvious that the pricing, discounts, and giveaways are part of HP’s sales plan and, thanks to HP’s extensive experience in PC sales, they’re attempting to clear the channel for upgraded devices.

While this pricing reduction is obviously part of HP’s traditional M.O. – you don’t sell millions of desktops and laptops by selling at full price all the time – I think this M.O. coupled with the general lack of consumer interest is what will sink the TouchPad and the Pre, leaving them to flounder and fail like so many devices before them.

Consider, for example, the iPaq. Originally hailed as a solid competitor to the original Palm Pilot, Compaq sold itself to HP in 2002 and slowly sputtered out as HP gave less and less attention to these devices. HP attempted – and failed – to sell the the PDA concept to newly-minted smartphone consumers and even when the iPaq line began incorporating smartphone features it was too late: the world had moved on.

Here’s the bottom line: HP is where good ideas go to die. The company isn’t set up to think like a scrappy start-up. WebOS will be rolled into laptops, the WebOS tablet product will be overtaken by Windows 8 tablets, and the long, twisted tale of Palm will end with a whimper. I don’t want this to come to pass. I love the TouchPad and the Pre 3 is a good phone. But there is just no room for a third (or fourth (or fifth)) player in the smartphone market right now with Android and iOS battling it out and Windows Phone creeping up behind. HP can’t pivot out of this and, in the end, they’ll pull the plug. Maybe not this year, maybe not this CES, but by 2013 we’ll be writing WebOS’ obituary.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but probably not. WebOS’ time has passed and we’re just watching the funeral.

[Sort of via SplatF but seriously go read Dan Fromer’s new thing]