Gone but not forgotten: a brief history of failed smartphone operating systems


Hey, remember Palm? Even though it got gobbled up and then mercilessly spat out by HP, back in its heyday it was one of the biggest makers of PDAs on the market. WebOS, the operating system which launched alongside the Palm Pre, was lauded as a game changer, offering a now universally used multitasking solution Palm called “activity cards”, a fully multitouch user interface, apps built directly using web technologies (hence the name), and so much more. Though it never got significant sales or market share, the OS was almost universally loved by tech enthusiasts, and its legacy lives on in the many features other operating systems have borrowed from it.


The year was 2007, and the iPhone – a device that left a lot of people unconvinced at the time, but would ultimately prove to be revolutionary – had just debuted, and someone at Palm had clearly recognized the threat. The company’s solution was to hire Jon Rubinstein, a recent Apple retiree who was partially responsible for the original iPod, and put him in charge of their upcoming phones’ development. Two years later, the Pre, along with WebOS, was debuted at CES 2009, where it became the first non-Apple smartphone to use a multitouch screen. In April 2010, following the lackluster sales of the Pre, Pre Plus and Pixi, HP announced it would buy Palm in its entirety. A couple of phones later, the Palm name was dropped in favor of HP’s, but only two devices were released before the company ultimately scrapped its mobile plans, and along with them, WebOS as a portable operating system.


One of the most interesting things about WebOS was its extensive use of gestures, to the point where devices using the OS had a special gesture area below the screen. Card-based multitasking, which is now considered the norm in mobile computing, made its debut in WebOS. Universal search, which brought results from multiple apps at once, too, was baked right into the OS from day one. A widely advertised feature, Synergy, was WebOS’ answer to the address book, importing data from many sources at once, including social media and email, and then storing it into the cloud. A nice touch was also the inclusion of a PalmOS emulator, called Classic, which allowed backwards compatibility with older apps.

What went wrong

Despite its many positives, things were far from peachy for WebOS and its parent company right from the start. For starters, the Pre was announced just after the company’s worst stock market performance ever, going for as low as $1.42 per stock. While in time that figure increased significantly, it was ultimately not enough, resulting in the HP buyout. Palm’s devices weren’t selling as predicted, and in hindsight it’s easy to see the reason: apps. Or, rather, the lack of apps – who would’ve thought that the very thing that defines the concept of the smartphone is necessary for its success? The Mojo SDK, a.k.a. the thing necessary to build apps for an OS, launched a full month after the Pre did, which is bad enough for any phone, let alone one which launched with just a dozen or so apps. Combine that with Sprint’s lackluster marketing, along with Palm’s unwillingness to branch out and sell the device overseas in a serious manner, and you’ve got yourselves a clear market failure. In the following months, Android skyrocketed in popularity, ensuring subsequent WebOS devices will meet a similar fate. 


Some time after the discontinuation of WebOS by HP, a licensing agreement between them and LG sort of revived the OS, which now powers a number of LG’s smart TVs, along with a variant of the LG Watch Urbane. Also, a successor to WebOS, named LuneOS, is in active development by the open source community, though it’s far from having a widespread adoption. Many of the OS’ features live on, most notably the card-based multitasking, though some of its advanced capabilities, such as card stacking/grouping, have failed to catch on.

Jump to: WebOS | MeeGo | Windows Phone | BlackBerry 10 | Firefox OS

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1. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

I've always wanted to collect smartphones with those exotic OSes.

6. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

They forgot to mention Tizen. :D

16. Ray.S

Posts: 464; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

This one is not dead yet! Hang in there buddy!

24. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

I can say the same about Windows 10 Mobile, Ray... The latest preview 1703 (10.0.15025.1001) was released just a day ago on 2 February... Look it up if you don't believe this old oak tree... And that's pretty far from dead in my book... And if you mean to point-out at Windows Phone 8.1 then sure its dead, just like Android Gingerbread or iOS 5... Don't be so biased against Windows... Sure it can't hold a candle against The Nougat, but its pretty respectable, usability wise, when compared to the likes of feature-phone OS like the Nokia Series 30+ that currently grace the Nokia feature-phones... Oh well, W'Day!

46. Master_Oogway

Posts: 104; Member since: Oct 06, 2016

But atleast they forgot Bada OS from Samsung...

47. aldridhl

Posts: 77; Member since: Feb 12, 2011

It's funny/sad how PA loves to s**t on windows phone. It's still alive, despite not being a high priority for MS or a roaring success like the big two. IMO it's still a good alternative in terms of usability.

70. phonearenarocks

Posts: 607; Member since: Mar 26, 2015

You agree with 69?

75. SemperFiV12

Posts: 949; Member since: Nov 09, 2010

Neither is Windows Phone... Buddy. But who cares about being objective :)

17. Mxyzptlk unregistered

And BlackBerry 10 and Blackberry OS.

26. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Right after Windows Phone and before Firefox OS.

23. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Don't forget Ubuntu Touch and Bada

69. phonearenarocks

Posts: 607; Member since: Mar 26, 2015

It is one of the finest smart watch OS and it is used in their Smart TVs, Refrigerators, and all other electronic appliances. Success in smart watch industry could pave for more apps to be developed making way for third competitive mobile OS.

19. HugoBarraCyanogenmod

Posts: 1412; Member since: Jul 06, 2014

BB10 still significant despite being dead, at least 5 out of 100 users in some Africa if I'm not mistaken

20. meanestgenius

Posts: 22771; Member since: May 28, 2014

Very true. There is still a significant user base for BB10 in Africa and Indonesia, despite what some uninformed people think.

29. Mxyzptlk unregistered

I can count the number of BlackBerry users on my fingers, despite what some ignorant people will think.

30. meanestgenius

Posts: 22771; Member since: May 28, 2014

There aren't enough fingers (and toes, and eyelashes, and eyebrows) in the world to count the amount of times you made an ignorant troll statement and tried to pass it off as an informed opinion.

33. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Boy someone is cranky. Let me get the butthurt report form. Again. The problem you seem to have is understanding someone else's opinion.

34. meanestgenius

Posts: 22771; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, looks like I offended snowflake up there with some cold, hard facts. I could understand if your "opinions" were backed by experience and actual knowledge, but they're not. They are chock full of ignorance, especially when you comment on devices that you have never used before, like BlackBerry Android devices and BB10 devices. And hey, do you ever come up with anything new? You just recycle your same old inbred troll comments from post to post. Then again, I shouldn't expect too much from an idiot that spends the majority of his day trolling what he doesn't like and applying "anal soothe ointment" for when he gets repeatedly bumburned because of his trolling.

50. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Apparently you were the one who was offended. Why else would you react the way you did with my blackberry comment? You just can't seem to get over it about the BlackBerry thing. BB10 is dead and the only blackberry android phone that is worth taking about is the DTEK60. But don't let your butthurt get in the way of a good point. I could ask you the same thing with you constantly calling me an inbred Apple worshipper. But I don't expect much from a butthurt guy who is fighting the good fight.

53. meanestgenius

Posts: 22771; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, there you go projecting again. People like you that project so much usually do it because they seething with anger all of the time over others factual comments about them. You just can't seem to get over that there are other operating systems that are more capable than iOS that others like, like BB10 and BlackBerry Secured Android. If BB10 were "dead", it still wouldn't receive updates and it wouldn't still be supported, with a full OS upgrade on the way in 10.3.4. But don't let the facts get in the way of your rage and blind ignorance. No, you can't ask the same of me. You're an inbred trolling Apple Shill that attacks anything that's not Apple, and everyone here knows it, that's why so many people besides me say that you. But I don't expect much from a willfully ignorant idiot that admits he trolls other OS's "becaus others troll Apple" and that has admitted to making willfully ignorant comments "because he let his feud with me get the better of him".

59. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Oh get over it. You're always so sensitive about blackberry comments that you disagree with. I guess you were right when you said you were aggressive when it comes to defending blackberry with your other aliases. If BB10 was still alive, why haven't they released another device with it yet? As far as being more "capable" well that's subjective even if your delusional mind thinks otherwise. Pot meets the motherfcking kettle here. You have no room to call anyone an inbred shill. Remember, you're an inbred blackberry apologist, someone who thinks blackberry still has a chance when they don't. You have also admitted to trolling the trolls and fighting the good fight. And I'm not sure what you're trying to get at with me admitting I make ignorant comments.

60. meanestgenius

Posts: 22771; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, pot meets the motherfcking kettle here, as you always cry like a btch when someone says something about Apple that you don't agree with, as well as when someone proves you to be the ignorant troll that you are. You were absolutely correct when you admitted that you do indeed make ignorant comments on BlackBerry articles because of out little "feud". If BB10 was dead, then why is BlackBerry working on another OS update, 10.3.4, as we "speak"? And yes, operating systems like Android and BB10 are more capable than iOS. That's a fact, and it's evident in the limited functionality of iOS, despite what an inbred trolling Apple shill like yourself thinks. I can call you an inbred trolling Apple shill because it's what you are. I don't attack other OEM 's and OS's that aren't from Apple, and I don't make ignorant statements about other OEM's and OS's like you admitted to doing. And BlackBerry doesn't have a chance at what? Being the top EMM/MDM player in enterprise? Or having the most market share in the auto-infotainment industry? Because they're the top dog in both. My comments are based on facts and my own user experience. You run around deflecting for Apple like captain America's shield deflects bullets. And yes, I troll the trolls that make ignorant statements about devices they have never used, which is why I troll YOU, especially since you already admitted to trolling Android because "Android fans troll Apple", as well as you admitting to making ignorant comments about BlackBerry devices that you've never ever used just because of our little feud.

71. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Oh look, you can tell you hit a nerve when you start rambling. BB10 is dead. If it's not being released on new devices, then it's dead. That's a fact whether you want to admit it or not. So get over it. I'm not making ignorant comments. You need to get over it and stop being aggressive on blackberry articles. You admitted to it on that podcast and you get a hissy fit every time I point it out. I don't care what an inbred blackberry shill like you says. You're just mad ios killed blackberry even though blackberry tried to make an iPhone killer and compete against the iPhone and Android despite what your dumb @$$ says. I don't care what you do or don't do. You're too busy kissing the bum of blackberry and Chen because that's what you do best. And there you go using the usual blackberry is a player in niche markets scapegoat answer. Lol come up with something that isn't so predictable, alpha. Your comments are full of bullsht, but I guess that's expected from a blackberry shill. You're a troll in denial who just can't get over it.

72. meanestgenius

Posts: 22771; Member since: May 28, 2014

Lol, Mxy obviously still needs my attention after 3 whole days. It definitely must be because of all the space that I'm occupying in that teeny tiny brain of his. If the current devices are still getting fresh OS update and not just patches, it means the platform is still alive, whether you want to admit it or not. You need to get over your ignorance and stop trolling so much and crying like a little baby every time you get called out on your willful ignorance. I was never on any podcast, idiot. If I was, post a link where it says that Meanestgenius was on one proving so. Don't worry, I'll wait. But if your past links that you've posted as proof are any indication, you'll fail miserably once again. You're just a childish little btch that thinks that I'm concerned with silly little OS wars. Only immature brats are concerned with that. I just like trolling the trolls like you and proving your ignorance, especially about platforms that suit my needs that your ignorant @$$ has zero experience with. If you didn't care what I do, you wouldn't still be seeking my attention after three whole days. But I guess that inbred trolling Apple shills like you are too dumbfounded by the RDF that Apple produces to know any better. And there you go, trying to deflect from the fact that EMM/MDM and auto are markets that BlackBerry is number one in, while Apple isn't even a figment of the imagination in them by providing your usual scapegoat answer. Lmao! Come up with something original for once, batmite. YOU are full of bullsht, but that's to be expected from an inbred trolling Apple shill that spews willfully ignorant comments about platforms and devices he's never used, all while denying that he's the biggest troll on this site and everyone knows it.

2. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

You forgot about Nokia Anna-Belle, Kaloyan C. (The name kinda reminds me of a famous cursed doll)

3. Ray.S

Posts: 464; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

I don't think Symbian was a fail; it was just discontinued. Maybe another one of those bad decisions over at Nokia/MS at the time.

5. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Good point sir, hmm... but what about Symbian UIQ which is completely different OS from the rest of Symbian variations?

7. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

It's a forked version of Symbian available on several Sony Ericsson handsets. The P8s and P9s and other Walkman phones were quite popular. Symbian was discontinued coz it can't progress anymore. They have to work up from zero but no funds available coz license fees from SE and Nokia was on its low. If only crowdfunding was available in those years.

9. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Even though it's a forked version of Symbian, it looks like a completely different OS. But yeah it's still Symbian, your point is still stand. l apologise if my english is bad, and thanks for the answer anyway.

48. 47AlphaTango

Posts: 745; Member since: Sep 27, 2015

Discontinued? There are still manufacturers out there like samsung, nokia, and other third party phone vendors out there that still sells symbian powered phones. Just because both android and ios dominates the mobile market doesn't mean that there's no room for users who would buy secondary or third mobile phones. If the symbian was truly dead. How come nokia is still making symbian phones till now? Not everything should be thrown at the android and the ios. If there's still a room for the symbian to function such as: 1. Thermometer 2. Compass 3. Altimeter 4. Barometer 5. And Radio+Television And the reason why I chose these function is because, not all of these functions found on the smartphone(Except for TV) is being used.

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