The mobile OS market is currently split four ways. Android and iOS are found on the lion’s share of devices. Blackberry has been reduced almost to irrelevance, while Windows appears to be on the rise. By the end of next year, we may be able to add WebOS back to that list. A company called Phoenix International Communications wants to bring the now open-source OS to market with custom smartphone hardware.
Open WebOS, as it’s called these days, has been ported to some existing devices already. There’s even a version that runs as an Android app. However, Phoenix wants to produce its own hardware using a manufacturer in China. The firm’s leader, Matthew Zakutny, told Technology Review that the plan is to start with lower-end devices and slowly move upmarket. Phoenix will reportedly seek funding via Kickstarter, which could be a fertile resource given WebOS’s old-school Palm roots. Kickstarter projects seem to do well when there’s a hint of nostalgia involved.
As much as I’d like to see WebOS rise up from obscurity, the Phoenix group may have a tough time competing. Even though the OS is expected to be compatible with Android apps via OpenMobile, the lack of native WebOS apps may turn off some users. A bigger challenge may be coming up with compelling hardware. There’s certainly no shortage of competition in the handset market, and starting at the low end doesn’t necessarily make things much easier.