CES 2014: LG Resurrects webOS To Power Smart TVs

Three years later, HP finally squeezes some value out of the OS developed by Palm

LG has revealed a range of smart TVs based on the webOS operating system, originally developed by Palm for mobile devices.

The Korean electronics giant bought a licence to webOS from HP, which acquired Palm in 2010 but failed to take advantage of the software, and eventually released the relevant code to the open source community.

The new TV sets, including the world’s first curved screen OLED TV, were announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

“The beauty of webOS is that it provides so much freedom, and is so simple to use. We feel confident that consumers will find navigating, exploring and switching between different forms of content on webOS a truly enjoyable, not frustrating, experience,” said In-kyu Lee, Senior Vice President and head of the TV division at LG.

Guess who’s back

webOS, based on the Linux kernel, was originally envisioned as a mobile operating system to replace Palm OS. It was launched by Palm in 2009, and briefly appeared on the cult favourite Pre, Pixi, and Veer smartphones.

LG webOSHP bought Palm in April 2010 for $1.2 billion, getting access to intellectual property that should have helped it challenge Apple in the tablet market. In February 2011, HP announced that it would use WebOS as the centrepiece of its device strategy. The plan ended in disaster, with the TouchPad tablet cancelled just six weeks after it first appeared on sale. Several weeks later, Leo Apotheker was forced out as the CEO of HP, to be replaced by Meg Whitman.

By December 2011, webOS was released to the open source community, and its management entrusted to a brand new unit called Gram. Since then, HP has been desperately trying to squeeze any value whatsoever from the Palm properties it acquired, and failing miserably, until now.

LG bought a licence to webOS in March 2013, to see if it would work in a living room environment. However HP still holds on to underlying patents as well as the technology related to cloud-based services.

LG’s reimagining of the OS features colourful sliding cards that allow users to switch between broadcast TV, smart TV content and media stored on external devices without having to return to the Home screen. Users can also multi-task – for example, play a game while their movie is downloading in the background.

The company calls the interface ‘intuitive’ and ‘uncomplicated’. It replaces LG’s own software, formerly known as NetCast, which had been criticised for its complexity and frequent crashes.

In an attempt to make the platform more accessible, LG has even designed an animated digital assistant called Bean Bird to help with the initial setup, somewhat similar to the legendary Clippy the paperclip, which annoyed Microsoft Office users from 1997 until 2003.

In the future, webOS could become fertile ground for app development, with services from AccuWeather, Deezer, Disney and AOL already available on LG’s SmartWorld app store. The company says that two thirds of TVs it expects to release this year will be running WebOS.

The OS could also be used in cars, as well as – just maybe –  fulfilling its original purpose and re-appearing on mobile devices.

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