webOS also known as LG webOS and Open webOS, is a Linux-based operating system for smart TVs, and formerly amobile operating system. Initially developed by Palm, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard, the operating system was later sold to LG Electronics. Through all iterations of the operating system (Palm, HP and now LG) the official name has been consistently stylized as webOS (lowercase ‘w’).[note 1] Palm launched WebOS in January 2009, then calledPalm WebOS. Various versions of WebOS have been featured on several devices, including Pre, Pixi, and Veer phones and the HP TouchPad tablet. The latest version, 3.0.5, was released on January 12, 2012. After abandoning the TouchPad and the proposed sale of the HP Personal Systems Group, HP made the platform open source, and it became Open WebOS. Code specific to the existing devices was released as WebOS Community Edition (CE), with support for the existing HP hardware. Open WebOS includes open source libraries designed to target a wider range of hardware.
In February 2013, LG Electronics acquired webOS from HP to enhance their smart TVs, replacing their previous NetCast platform. However HP will still hold on to patents underlying WebOS as well as cloud-based services such as the App Catalog. Despite WebOS now being shaped as an OS for smart televisions, LG has not ruled out the possibility of a WebOS smartphone, the original purpose of the OS.
Palm launched WebOS in January 2009 as the successor to Palm OS. The first WebOS device was the original Palm Pre, released by Sprint in June 2009. The Palm Pixi followed. Upgraded “Plus” versions of both Pre and Pixi were released on Verizon and AT&T.
In April 2010, HP acquired Palm; WebOS was described as a key asset and motivation for the purchase. The $1.2 billion acquisition finalized in June. HP indicated its intention to develop the WebOS platform for use in multiple new products, including smartphones, tablet computers, and printers.
In February 2011, HP announced that it would use WebOS as the universal platform for all its devices. However, HP also made the decision that the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi, and the “Plus” revisions would not receive over-the-air updates to WebOS 2.0, despite a previous commitment to an upgrade “in coming months”. HP announced several new WebOS devices, including the HP Veer and HP Pre 3 smartphones, running WebOS 2.2, and the HP TouchPad, a tablet computer released in July 2011 that runs WebOS 3.0.
In March 2011, HP announced plans for a version of WebOS by the end of 2011 to run within Windows, and to be installed on all HP desktop and notebook computers in 2012. Neither ever materialized, although work had begun on an x86 port around this time involving a team in Fort Collins, Colorado. Work was scrapped later in the year.
In August 2011, HP announced that it was interested in selling its Personal Systems Group, responsible for all of its consumer PC products, including WebOS, and that WebOS device development and production lines would be halted. It was unclear whether HP would consider licensing of WebOS software to other manufacturers. When HP reduced the price of the Touchpad to $99, the existing inventory quickly sold out.
The HP Pre 3 was launched in select areas of Europe, and U.S.-based units were available only through unofficial channels as both AT&T and Verizon canceled their orders just prior to delivery after Apotheker’s announcement. Notably, these U.S. Pre 3 units, having been released through unofficial channels, lacked both warranties and carried no support obligation from HP; as a result parts are nearly impossible to come by. HP announced that it would continue to issue updates for the HP Veer and HP TouchPad, but these updates have failed to materialize for the former, and the latter saw a final, unofficial release called WebOS CE that contained only open-sourced components of WebOS meant for what remained of the developer community rather than a conventional, user-centric update to the operating system.
On February 25, 2013 HP announced that it is licensing WebOS to LG Electronics for use on its web-enabled Smart TVs. LG Electronics is allowed unlimited access to the documentation, source code, developers and all related websites.
Smartphone and tablet features
The HP TouchPad runs WebOS version 3.0.X.
Navigation uses multi-touch gestures on the touchscreen. The interface uses “cards” to manage multitasking and represent apps. The user switches between running applications by a flicking gesture from left and right on the screen. Applications are closed by flicking a “card” up—and “off”—the screen. The application “cards” can be rearranged for organization. In WebOS 2.0 introduced Stacks, where related cards could be “stacked” together.
Over the air updates
The OS could be updated without docking to a PC, instead receiving OS updates over the carrier connection.
Palm referred to integration of information from many sources as “Synergy”. Users can sign into multiple email accounts from different providers and integrate all of these sources into a single list. Similar capabilities pull together calendars and also instant messages and SMS text messages from multiple sources.
The notification area is located on the bottom portion of the screen on phones, and on the top status bar area on tablets.
On phones, when a notification comes in, it slides in from the bottom of the screen. Due to the resizable nature of the Mojo and Enyo application frameworks, the app usually resizes itself to allow unhindered use while the notification is displayed. After the notification slides away, it usually remains as an icon. The user can then tap on the icons to expand them. Notifications can then be dismissed (sliding off the screen), acted upon (tapping), or left alone.
By default, data synchronization uses a cloud-based approach rather than using a desktop sync client, but various third-party sync clients are available. The first version of WebOS shipped with the ability to sync with Apple’s iTunes software by masquerading as an Apple device, but this feature was disabled by subsequent software updates from Apple.
Officially vetted third-party applications are accessible from the device for wireless download by using the App Catalog.
Another source of applications is homebrew software. Homebrew applications are not directly supported by HP. Programs used to distribute homebrew WebOS applications include WebOS Quick Install (Java-based for Desktop computers), and Preware (a homebrew WebOS app catalog, which must be sideloaded to install). If software problems do occur after installing homebrew programs, WebOS Doctor (provided by HP) can restore a phone back to factory settings and remove most changes made by homebrew apps and patches.
As WebOS replaced Palm OS, Palm commissioned MotionApps to code and develop an emulator called Classic, to enable backward compatibility to Palm OS applications. This operates with WebOS version 1. PalmOS emulation was discontinued in WebOS version 2.0. MotionApps disengaged from Classic in 2010, citing HP Palm as “disruptive”.
Growth and decline
WebOS launched June 6, 2009 on the Palm Pre with 18 available applications. The number of apps grew to 30 by June 17, 2009, with 1 million cumulative downloads by June 27, 2009; 30 official and 31 unofficial apps by July 13, 2009; 41 official apps by August 25, 2009; 356 official apps by November 7, 2009 1,000 official apps by January 1, 2010; 3,000 official apps by July 27, 2010; 4,000 official apps September 29, 2010; and 10,002 official apps by December 9, 2011.
Subsequently, the number of available applications has decreased. Developer attrition accelerated in the latter half of 2011 after retail presence ceased. The number of currently maintained applications on the platform, defined as any application that has been updated within the last six months, is unknown.
Many applications have been pulled from the App Catalog, often precipitously. Examples include the apps for The New York Times and Pandora Radio. The number of remaining functional applications is currently unknown. When factoring out abandoned and/or non-functioning applications that remain in the App Catalog at present, the number is projected to be substantially lower.
Smart TV features
LG has redesigned the UI of webOS, whilst maintaining the card UI as a feature called “Simple switching” between TV apps. The other two features promoted by the company are simple connection (using an animated character to aid the user through setup), and simple discovery.
The list of open-source components used by the different releases of WebOS, as well as the source code of and patches applied to each component, is available at the Palm Open Source web page. This page also serves as a reference listing of the versions of WebOS that have been publicly released.