This isn't technically an Android story, but we know there's lots of Palm Pre and HP Touchpad users out there in the reading audience. After months of indecision over the future of WebOS, HP has decided to release open source code for the operating system, allowing anyone from hobbyists to manufacturers to create versions of WebOS for different devices. There won't be any more hardware from HP featuring WebOS, at least not in the immediate future.
WebOS started as a new operating system, built from the ground up by Palm to compete with the iPhone. When the first two generations of the Palm Pre failed to impress and its former PalmOS and Windows Mobile Treo phones kept losing ground in the market, PC manufacturer HP bought the company in April 2010 and moved its employees to their largely stagnant mobile division. The company released a low-end WebOS phone, the Veer, and the HP Touchpad tablet. Neither managed to gain a foothold in the market, and HP decided to discontinue production on both devices, and completely shelved its plan for the Pre 3. The announcement came less than two months after the Touchpad was released.
That's where things started to get interesting. Once HP had decided to kill the Touchpad, they liquidated remaining stock in a firesale, pricing the $500 16GB version at just $100. They sold hundreds of thousands of tablets overnight. Immediately Android developers set to work on a version of Android Gingerbread for the 10-inch tablet, spurred on by renewed interest and a few small monetary prizes raised for the purpose. The CyanogenMod team was the one to finally release a stable, reliable version of Android for the Touchpad, which is still being updated. A version of the recently open-sourced Android Ice Cream Sandwich is already in the works.
So what does this mean for Android users? Soon you may have yet another choice for your device's operating system, if there's a developer willing to modify WebOS' open source code to run on your hardware. If you're skilled in that area you'll be able to try yourself. You can expect versions of WebOS for the most popular devices, like the Galaxy S II and the various Nexus phones, and at least a few tablet versions should be available as well. Whether or not it's something you'd want to use depends on your personal taste and the skill of the developers. I hope that some of WebOS' more unique features, like the card multitasking system and edge gestures. HP said that it will continue to add to the project.
On a personal note, I'd like to say goodbye to Palm, Inc. Now that HP is basically throwing the last Palm project to the wind, it's truly the end of an era for a company that helped define mobile computing for decades. So long, Palm - it was great while it lasted.