Near death, WebOS is more popular than ever

The mobile operating system that Hewlett-Packard plans to shelve finds a new luster with discount sales and bids to lure application developers.

What is it about death that makes the once-living so much more appealing?

Take WebOS, the mobile operating system that Hewlett-Packard all-but-euthanized last Thursday. It was a decision born from the fact that HP generated nearly no business for the TouchPad, its iPad-wannabe. And sales of smartphones running WebOS, such as the HP Veer, paled next to rival handsets running Google's Android, as well as Apple's iPhone.

But just after HP announced plans to put WebOS out of its misery, discontinuing operations for devices running on it, the operating system has shown a new luster. TouchPads are flying off the shelves at fire sale prices and WebOS application developers are the subjects of at least one company's hot pursuit. It almost seems as if HP, had it been able to price the TouchPad better and harness the enthusiasm of its developers, could have turned WebOS into a contender.

Just look at what happened this weekend at Best Buy. The giant retailer launched a fire sale on TouchPads over the weekend, selling the model with 16 gigabytes of memory for $99.99, down from $399.99, and the 32-gigabyte version for $149.99, down from $499.99. By Monday morning, Best Buy's online operations were sold out of both gadgets.

Best Buy sold out of HP TouchPads online. Best Buy; screenshot by Jay Greene/CNET

Just days earlier, AllThingsD reported that Best Buy was complaining to HP about the mountain of unsold TouchPads taking up too much space in its stores and warehouses. According to that report, the retailer had sold only 25,000 of the 270,000 TouchPads it had received.

And it's not just Best Buy. Over the weekend, the discounted devices became the hottest-selling electronics items on Amazon. And even HP's site selling TouchPads at fire-sale prices cratered under the rush of interest, according to a story from CNET's sister site, ZDNet.

Add to that the WebOS sideshow rolling in Redmond, Wash. On Friday, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone, Brandon Watson, made a play for WebOS developers. Watson tweeted that Microsoft would provide free phones, developer tools, and training to help any published WebOS developers make the switch to Windows Phone.

By Monday morning, Watson tweeted that he'd received close to 1,000 e-mails from WebOS developers. (Which raises the question: are there really 1,000 WebOS developers?) In an e-mail sent to those developers, Watson expressed surprise at the level of interest in his offer, according to Winrumors, which obtained the note.

"To be honest, we didn't expect this level of response, so we were caught a bit flatfooted," Watson wrote.

Of course, so was HP, when it acquired Palm and WebOS with it. As WebOS moves closer to the great beyond, you can't help but think that it's a bit like James Dean, loved more in death than in life. Or maybe it's a bit more like the old AMC Pacer, popular but only in an ironic sort of way.

 

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