Palm Software Director Sheds Light on webOS, TouchPad Fiasco

Paul Lilly

Somewhere out there, perhaps in an alternate timeline or in another universe millions of light years away, Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad tablet is the one to beat after living up to its potential as an iPad killer. But in this timeline and in this universe, the TouchPad is an obsolete relic that was pulled from the market almost as quickly as it appeared, and the future of webOS lies in the hands of open source developers. Could things have worked out any differently?

Paul Mercer, former senior director of software at Palm, oversaw the interface design of webOS , as well as recruited several members of the webOS team. In his opinion, the failure of webOS to this point has been a matter of timing.

"Palm was ahead of its time in trying to build a phone software platform using Web technology, and we just weren't able to execute such an ambitious and breakthrough design," Mercer told The New York Times . "Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn't there yet."

According to NYT, Mercer's opinion is one that's shared by several former Palm and HP employees who had a hand at shaping webOS, and they all believe that the software was doomed from the start, as was HP's acquisition of Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010.

The pitch from Palm was that webOS was based on common Web technology so it would be super easy to create software for it, and in turn that would attract developers. It probably didn't take much convincing for HP, which was salivating at the idea of owning both the hardware and software side of things. However, webOS might not have been ready for HP's ambitious plans.

A unnamed "former member of the webOS app development team" told NYT that the operating system was developed in nine months and there were shortcuts along the way, shortcuts that were compounded once webOS switched hands from Palm to HP. That was issue No. 1. The second issue is related to recruitment and the lack of available talent with understanding of WebKit, especially after Apple and Google already cherry picked the available talent.

It's an interesting two-page article that goes into quite a bit more detail, all of which you can absorb here .

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