Mobile OS

Death of the TouchPad: What it reveals about the future of tablets and mobiles

Four mobile lessons the end of HP's webOS slate teaches us...

Another day, another huge upheaval in the mobile computing space: this time it's HP pulling out of tablets and mobiles. Selling mobile devices used to be the business of Palm, which HP bought for $1.2bn just over a year ago.

Until recently, HP had been banking on Palm's webOS operating system to win it a big slice of the tablet and smartphone markets: in February this year, at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show, I watched HP demoing its first webOS tablet along with two webOS smartphones, the Veer and Pre3.

WebOS was slick and intuitive, with multitasking and notifications built in from the get-go. The UI was innovative and intuitive, the WebKit browser supported multitouch gestures, Flash and HTML5. On the hardware front, smartphones saw shiny touchscreens coupled with slide-out full Qwerty keyboards - offering the best of both input worlds.

HP shutters webOS devices: Kills off the TouchPad

The HP TouchPad: One of the shortest-lived mobile gadgets in recent memoryPhoto: Steve Ranger/silicon.com

Aesthetics-wise, edges were rounded and handsets sat snugly in the palm - smooth as pebbles. The tiny Veer was small enough to be a pebble in fact, while the TouchPad resembled a handsome but chunkier iPad.

With hardware and software this attractive, comparisons with Apple's wares were inevitable, and industry watchers wondered whether the TouchPad could be a serious rival to the iPad.

The answer, we now learn, is no: the TouchPad was no iPad killer. HP has closed its webOS devices business - and unless it decides to license or sell the software (HTC could make a good suitor - it's just a shame it's too late for Nokia), webOS is facing a less than dignified relegation to powering printer hardware.

The death of the TouchPad tells us several things:

1. Hardware and software is not enough Firstly it shows that great software and decent hardware are not in themselves enough to compete in the fiercely competitive mobile market - not now Apple has established it owns the premium end of the market. It also shows that vertical integration - a particularly trendy notion at present - is not some magic bullet in mobile. Similarly, owning both software and hardware hasn't helped RIM transform its ageing mobile business to compete with Apple and Android. Indeed, the BlackBerry-maker has had to...

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