Angry ex-webOS team members have blamed poor code decisions by software-naive execs for the platform’s demise, as well as power struggles amid the OS’ adoption by HP. Jon Rubinstein – at the time CEO of Palm – opted for WebKit as the underlying engine on which webOS apps would run, something Paul Mercer, former senior director of software at Palm, tells the NYTimes was a huge mistake. “We just weren’t able to execute such an ambitious and breakthrough design” the ex-software chief argued, suggesting that WebKit simply wasn’t up to running applications at the same speed as users experienced on, say, the iPhone.
WebKit’s shortcomings, and an accelerated development timescale that forced each app to be initially built from scratch, then subsequently rebuilt by Palm and again for the second time by HP as the webOS framework took shape, resulted in significant returns. Palm saw “extremely high return rates” of the original Pre, a former apps employee claims, as early-adopters discovered it was sluggish and unstable.
webOS also suffered significantly from the loss of Matias Duarte, who jumped ship to Google in May 2010. Known as the architect of the webOS user experience, Duarte’s departure opened the door to in-fighting and power grabbing as HP got to grips with the newly-acquired platform.
“[Matias Duarte] was WebOS … When he left, the vacuum was just palpable. What you’re seeing is frankly a bunch of fourth- and fifth-stringers jumping onto WebOS in the wake of Duarte’s leaving” Unnamed former webOS team member
Since then, HP has been through a number of CEOs and has decided to make webOS open-source. HP has left the door open for potential future hardware running the platform, though that is believed to be heavily dependent on whether webOS finds favor among third-party hardware and software producers. That, Mercer suggests, is still unlikely, as the root performance issues of WebKit remain.