Hewlett Packard had plenty to unveil at its press event today – the TouchPad tablet, a new Pre 3 and a smartphone the size of a credit card – but the company kept one surprise until the very end. It turns out HP plans to bring the webOS mobile operating system to computers, too.
Previously appearing on Palm Pre and Palm Pixi phones, webOS has been widely acknowledged as one of the best smartphone OSes on the market. HP said it wants to expand the kinds of devices that feature webOS, including printers and "some form factors you haven't seen before."
While printers and other mobile devices are relatively unsurprising candidates for webOS (consumers have been pining for a webOS tablet for years), the computer seems like a huge leap for a mobile OS. It's not necessarily unprecedented, though. Android and iPad tablets are increasingly taking on tasks that were originally reserved for computers. In fact, Apple's iOS is actually a stripped-down version of Mac OS X.
The idea of a lightweight operating system to run netbooks and cheap computers inspired Google to turn the Chrome browser into Chrome OS, too. If HP can translate webOS into a viable PC platform, it would give them a whole new range of devices to market and ultimately reduce reliance on Microsoft's Windows platform.
With the creation of the Mac App Store, Apple has shown that people are interested in apps for computers as well as mobile devices. Creating a computer app store with webOS would be relatively simple because webOS already has many apps and app developers looking to expand into other devices.
WebOS has a significant advantage over other mobile OSes when trying to scale up to computers: It has full multitasking capabilities. Being able to run multiple apps simultaneously and switch back and forth easily may not be a big deal on small smartphone screens. It's a little more useful on tablet screens, but still is not totally necessary. But using a computer without multitasking is not only frustrating, but completely unfeasible. With the multitasking functionality built-in — along with other perks such as a Flash-friendly browser — webOS is already poised to make the leap up to computers. In a sense, it really is just a lightweight computer OS.
HP didn't give any details about when we can expect a webOS computer (or what kind of features it might have), but it will be interesting to see how the announcement spurs platform development for other operating systems, mobile and PC alike.