Tablets may save them.
Today Palm announced the Pre 2, which will eventually be the first device to pack webOS 2.0. This is the first major Palm announcement since the acquisition of HP, and as such we can use it as a yardstick to measure just how much things are going to change under new management. So far, HP seems to doing a damn fine job.
You can read the link above for an exhaustive list of new 2.0 features. I'm just going to go over the real ground-breaking ones here. First, you've got true multitasking...with a beautiful twist. New webOS will stack your open apps together to keep related items in one place. If you're looking up an address to send in an email while also scrolling through your photos to find the one you need to attach in said message, all of those apps will group together so you can switch between them more easily.
"Just Type" has to be my favorite new feature. If you want to send an email, make a note, take a message, all you need to do is start typing. Once you've finished putting together a missive or a reminder or typing out an email address, you can choose what you want your phone to do with the Internet. IE: if you type out a URL, you'll be able to choose to go there or to send it in a message or email after you've finished typing it.
HP Synergy isn't new (phones have been populating from social media accounts for a while) but the fact that it has come to webOS makes it more competitive against Android and iOS. Same with Adobe Flash 10.1 beta. Odds are flash won't work WELL on webOS for a while yet, but they'll be able to make the all-important "supports Flash" claim in their ads.
webOS 2.0 also unifies all messaging clients in one app. It merges Yahoo IM and SMS, MMS, Google Talk and AIM together- giving you access to everyone you want to stay in contact with. Palm and HP have put a premium on speed and "economy of clicks" with 2.0. Take the changes to your Favorites. Now, searching for a favored contact by name makes them show up at the top of your Contacts list with all of their messaging info.
"Economy of Clicks" is something iOS has down pat, but Android and (one presumes) WP7 are a bit behind the curve. With these changes, webOS may have surpassed even iOS. Of course, we'll need to play around with a final build to be certain.
That said, I don't believe these changes will turn webOS into a more viable competitor on the global smartphone market. Apple and Android are too far ahead, and Palm already blew their PR load on some creepy ads. People aren't excited about webOS anymore, and it will take a Herculean effort on the part of HP's PR folks to change that.
Tablets represent the only avenue where I see substantial chance for webOS adoption/domination. If 2.0 is as good as it sounds, Palm basically has the perfect tablet OS...and a manufacturer powerful enough to push it out on some GREAT hardware. If they play their cards right, I can see webOS tablets holding a commanding position in the market.