HP kills off webOS--will mobile developers even mourn its loss?

editor's corner

And so webOS goes out with a whimper instead of a bang. Fewer than 18 months after acquiring Palm and its mobile operating system for $1.2 billion, HP pulled the plug on Thursday, announcing it will discontinue its webOS device business in the face of mediocre sales. In a statement, HP said it "will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward." Executives also will look into selling the webOS platform or licensing it. In other words, it's over.

Although news of webOS's demise is a stomach punch to developers writing apps for the platform, the reality is that those devs are few and far between. In terms of developer mindshare, webOS barely registers: According to Appcelerator and IDC's recent Q3 Mobile Developer Report, only 18 percent of developers expressed strong interest in writing apps for the HP TouchPad tablet and just 12 percent indicated enthusiasm for building Palm Pre/Pixi smartphone apps. Only lame ducks Symbian and MeeGo ranked lower on developers' list of priorities.

Take it from someone who speaks to developers on a regular basis: Discussion of webOS entered the conversation about as frequently as Halley's comet orbits the sun. Earlier this week, I reached out to a number of mobile industry professionals to explore the potential impact of the Google/Motorola Mobility deal on the developer community as well as its implications for rival operating systems. Some theorized the move could push Android developers to consider writing apps for other platforms, identifying Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone as the most likely candidate to attract new attention. Based on my notes and recollections, not one even mentioned webOS as a potential beneficiary of an Android exodus. It's as if webOS didn't exist--and now, for all intents and purposes, it doesn't.

Where do the remaining webOS developers turn from here? Where almost all developers turn sooner or later: Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and/or Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, the same two operating systems that spelled doom for webOS. The aforementioned Appcelerator/IDC survey indicates developers believe Android and iOS will extend their dominance from the consumer segment to the enterprise space, crediting the former's expanding market share lead and the latter's consumerization of the user experience. Only 7 percent believe Windows Phone has a shot to claim the enterprise crown, ahead of BlackBerry at 4 percent--followed by webOS at a mere 2 percent. Developers let go and moved on long before HP administered the last rites. Farewell, webOS--gone, and almost instantly forgotten.--Jason

P.S. For more on the end of webOS:
- see this FierceWireless article
- see this webOS device slideshow
- see this webOS timeline