WebOS, the cult favorite smartphone operating system pioneered by Palm, is making a comeback in mobile thanks to LG and its latest smartwatch.
LG on Thursday took the wraps off the LG Watch Urbane LTE, the first smartwatch able to connect to a high-speed 4G wireless network. The smartwatch doesn’t run on Google’s Android Wear software, but instead on what the Korean electronics conglomerate calls its LG Wearable Platform operating system.
The LG Wearable Platform has its roots based on the WebOS operating system, according to a person familiar with the product. It’s the same platform that powers the company’s line of smart televisions.
The use of WebOS, which LG acquired from Hewlett-Packard in 2013, on both devices suggests the company has more ambitious plans for its proprietary operating system. WebOS, like Samsung’s Tizen mobile operating system, could be a way for LG to pare back on its dependence on Google and its Android operating system and power multiple products with its own platform.
Samsung has employed its Tizen software, developed with partners like Intel, on affordable smartphones focused on consumers in the emerging markets, its smart televisions and some of its Gear smartwatches.
It’s an unusual path for WebOS, which began life at Palm, designer of the Palm Pilot, with its Pre smartphone. The operating system built a small, but loyal fan base, but saw mixed success with the mainstream market. In 2010, Palm sold itself to Hewlett-Packard for $1.2 billion. While HP’s ambitious plans for WebOS crumbled, just over a year later the company turned it into an open-source platform. When LG picked it up in 2013, the company initially wanted to only use its ability to multitask on different apps for its smart TV. Things appear to be changing.
LG, however, isn’t looking to break from Google. Earlier this month, it introduced the LG Watch Urbane, which lacks a 4G connection and runs on Android Wear, Google’s version of Android designed for wearable devices.
It’s unclear how different the LG Wearable Platform is from Android Wear from a user perspective — no screenshots were provided.
LG will likely continue supporting both operating systems, staying in good graces with Google while fostering an alternative platform that is more flexible to its own needs.
Android Wear itself also hasn’t been taking the world by storm. Six products running the operating system accounted for 720,000 units, or just 15.6 percent of a total of 4.6 million wearable products shipping last year, according to research firm Canalys.
There remains a question of whether consumers actually want a smartwatch, although Apple could certainly clear things up with its Apple Watch, expected to hit the market later this year.
The Urbane LTE marks the fourth smartwatch from LG. Like the Urbane and G Watch R, the Urbane LTE has a 1.3 plastic-organic-light-emitting diode circular display, which has an always-on “ambient mode.” The Urbane LTE and Urbane also employ the same 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 4 GB of memory.
But the Urbane LTE has a few key differences from its non-LTE sibling. With an independent LTE connection, it can make and receive calls and text messages. It also has a heftier 700 mAh battery, offering several days in standby mode. It includes a near-field communication chip to potentially turn it into a mobile wallet able to pay at NFC-enabled registers.
It also has three physical buttons on the right side of the smartphone — a top button for access to settings; a center button to switch between the watch and apps; and a lower button to act as a back function. Users can hold the back button down to send out a safety beacon to a preset emergency contact.
While the Urbane came in gold and silver, the Urbane LTE only comes in silver.
Both the Urbane and Urbane LTE will be paraded out at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.