The webOS smartphone is dead, another victim of HP’s current and ever-growing streak of fail, but a group of volunteer developers are trying to resurrect the operating system on new devices within the next three years.A group of volunteers called Phoenix International Communications, in reference to the fabled bird that incinerates itself upon death and is reborn from its ashes, are teaming up to “assist in the development, manufacturing, and implementation of new hardware running webOS,” according to the mission statement on the group’s site.
The group states that its vision “is to build a version of webOS with that Phoenix touch that will start a fire throughout the social sphere, internet and beyond.” It’s currently looking for volunteers, mostly developers.
Palm OS > webOS > Nowhere
The group does not have history on its side. Dead operating systems tend to stay dead, even the superior ones. The only operating system to have some kind of second coming was NextStep, which saw some parts of the OS work their way into Mac OS X. But NextStep and Mac OS had Steve Jobs behind them.
webOS took a more tortured path. Palm derived it from the Linux operating system and introduced it on its Pre line of smartphones, which were the toast of the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. Palm took too long to bring it to market, however, and couldn’t gain traction.
In April 2010, HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion, and announced all kinds of grandiose plans; more phones, a tablet, and possibly even PCs running webOS. We all know how that ended. A year later, HP abruptly killed off the entire line, including the well-received but poor-selling TouchPad.
HP tried to sell off webOS, but failing at that, too, it decided to open source the platform and let the community have it. Finally, in August 2012, it launched The Open webOS project.
A Second Rebirth
When asked by Brighthand for comment, Phoenix’s Marketing Manager Daniel Giovannetti said that the group was under a crunch deadline and he would be able to speak in a few weeks.
Matthew Zakutny, who is leader of the group, has given one interview, to MIT Technology Review, where he said the group’s first goal was to get webOS running as an app on existing smartphones. The first phone is Google’s Nexus S, which he said runs “extremely slowly.”
Phoenix hopes to eventually have its own low-end or mid-range phones running native webOS by 2016. Zakutny told TR that in addition to hiring more volunteers, the group is currently working on a Kickstarter application to raise money for the production of a prototype device.
Ken Dulaney, research vice president with Gartner for mobile devices, isn’t optimistic. At all. “It has no potential except in niche markets — probably low cost. But even there it will struggle. Would be amazed if this went anywhere except as a research project for these people doing the project,” he said.