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LG is bringing webOS 3.0 to smart TVs in 2016

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But can it measure up to today's set-top boxes?

LG

WebOS, the former smartphone operating system that now lives on LG’s smart TVs, is about to be refreshed. LG is bringing webOS 3.0 to CES 2016 next month and onward to a majority of its TV lineup for the year. The software isn't as much of a massive visual overhaul as past webOS refreshes. Rather, webOS 3.0 packs in features designed to try and modernize LG devices, especially now that cheaper set-top boxes have become more powerful and popular than standard TV software.

WebOS 3.0 has a few notable features. You'll be able to split your screen into two different channels at the same time, or one channel and another source like a Blu-ray player. You can also run LG's Music Player app through your speaker setup with the TV turned off, as well as control LG smart appliances using LG's IoTV app.

LG needs to modernize webOS to compete with leading streaming devices

The software's new standout functions, however, are a trio of "magic" features — LG's stand-in for "smart" — aimed at taking advantage of webOS 3.0's deeper hardware integration. Magic Zoom will let you magnify any portion of the screen without any loss in picture quality, according to LG. The company is also updating its Magic Remote so it can toggle set-top boxes on and off and control DVR functions as well. Magic Mobile Connection is an Apple AirPlay-like feature that lets users stream apps from their smartphone to LG smart TVs. None of those appear all that "magic," but they do bring some unique capabilities to webOS 3.0.

LG is also updating its interface with new Channel Advisor and Channel Plus recommendation features. Similar to TiVo, Channel Advisor will analyze what and how you watch to predict what you'll want to see and suggest upcoming time slots. Channel Plus will mix in broadcast channels with over-the-top streaming into a unified list, to help remove barriers to how viewers consume live and cable TV versus streaming services like Netflix.

WebOS 3.0 follows LG's annual refresh cycle timed to Las Vegas' big consumer electronic extravaganza. Yet this time the refresh arrives during a period of uncertainty for the company's smart TV ambitions. LG last week laid off some 20 employees from its Silicon Valley lab, which focused on webOS development among other projects. The company said at the time "these changes will not negatively impact LG’s webOS development efforts in any way," and it seems to have held true given what we know now about LG's newest upgrade.

LG just laid off 20 employees from its Silicon Valley lab

The fate of webOS this time next year is unclear. Following the layoffs last week, a source close to the situation told The Verge it would be difficult for LG's webOS team to improve the software with its reduced resources. "They're going to have a tough time of it," the source said.

More challenging for LG may be competing in today's set-top box landscape. Consumers have a number of choice — the new Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast 2.0  to name a few — from well-established tech giants capable of understanding what viewers want in the cord-cutting era. WebOS 3.0 will have to offer something so compelling that owners of LG smart TVs decide not to hook up, say, an old Roku. Or even worse, that consumers find webOS 3.0 so disappointing that they're willing to spend $35 to $200 to replace it.