LG is set to unveil a new smart TV powered by webOS at CES next week, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Up until now, LG has powered its line of smart TVs with Google TV; this new TV will be LG's first webOS product following the operating system's acquisition from Hewlett-Packard in February.
WebOS was originally the property of the late Palm, proprietors of the Treo and Palm Pilot. Following its creation of webOS, Palm was acquired by HP in 2010.
HP adopted Palm’s next-gen OS for its own gadgets, including the Pre 3 smartphone and TouchPad tablet, both of which earned an eminently mediocre reputation immediately following launch. As Ars pointed out in its review at the time, webOS had some innovative features—the card-style multitasking display of apps being one that iOS 7 recently adopted—but as a total package, it wasn’t compelling. Less than two months after the TouchPad launched, HP announced it was giving up not just on webOS, but its entire PC business.
If LG does move away from Google TV, it may be doing so just as it's getting good. Google has found a way of wrangling Android updates that takes some of the pressure off of what used to be big point releases. Instead, the company is rolling all the good stuff into “Google Play Services.” Some of this has come at the cost of Android’s open-source credo, but it appears a more streamlined experience for Android could pay good dividends for smart TVs.
Smart TVs are a race in which there are yet no clear winners: all of the products seem half-baked and place the onus of figuring out the best way to use them on the customer at virtually every opportunity. Now that consoles are stepping into the smart TV ring, TV manufacturers face mounting pressure to get their products in working order.
As we’ve pointed out, smart TVs are ill-equipped for downloading and playing with the latest apps, anyway, as few developers are designing for that interface; it’s the stock apps, like those oriented toward browsing and video-watching, that need to be solid. Google is folding its own apps, like Chrome, Gmail, and YouTube under the Google Play Services wing and could now ensure that they are suited to smart TVs, if it were inclined to do so.
Likewise, the Chromecast could make for a compelling addition to Google TV. The way it allows mobile devices to quickly share or control content on large, distant screens without requiring a proprietary app is nifty and makes for a less laborious interaction process than usual. If Google does manage to retool its smart TV interface using these new approaches, LG’s webOS implementation had better be ready to meet the challenge.