The TouchPad tablet from Hewlett-Packard was one of the most closely watched new gadgets of 2011 — and quickly turned out to be the year’s biggest flop. The TouchPad, which was supposed to be a rival to Apple’s iPad, lasted just seven weeks on the market before H.P. killed it, citing weak sales.
Analysts point to a long list of factors behind the tablet’s quick demise. But some of the people involved in creating the tablet’s core software now say the product barely had a fighting chance.
That software is called WebOS, an operating system built on the same technology used by many Web browsers. It promised to be more flexible and open than Apple’s tightly controlled iOS software, and more beautiful than Google’s sometimes wonky Android system. H.P. acquired Palm, the maker of WebOS, for $1.2 billion in 2010 so it could use the software in products like the TouchPad.
WebOS turned out to be something of a toxic asset. Several former Palm and H.P. employees involved in WebOS say that there was little hope for the software from the beginning, because the way it was built was so deeply flawed.
“Palm was ahead of its time in trying to build a phone software platform using Web technology, and we just weren’t able to execute such an ambitious and breakthrough design,” said Paul Mercer, former senior director of software at Palm, who oversaw the interface design of WebOS and recruited crucial members of the team. “Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn’t there yet…”