Technology

LG is overhauling its webOS TV software and maybe ruining it

There’s really not much of a resemblance between the webOS software that runs on LG TVs and the Palm smartphones where the operating system had its beginnings many years ago. But LG’s TV interface has grown to be among my favorites for its efficiency at staying out of the way. When you hit the remote’s home button, a shortcuts bar with apps, HDMI inputs, and other destinations slides up at the bottom of the screen but doesn’t completely overtake whatever’s on-screen. Highlight a streaming app, and an additional row slides up to reveal recommended picks and what’s streaming.

Well, so much for that.

LG is giving webOS a major overhaul for its 2021 TVs. Version 6.0 of the software gets rid of the slide-up bar altogether and now has a full home screen that looks akin to what you’d find on, well, any other TV. The colorful webOS “blades” interface is completely gone. At least on the surface, everything looks more bland. It’s just a long list of stuff. You’ve got a hero area at the top with large banners, then “top picks,” followed by apps, home dashboard / your inputs, and a bunch of other categories.

LG says “the new home screen provides faster access to the most frequently used apps and streamlines content discovery with the ability to receive recommendations based on the user’s preferences and viewing history.” You can see a big “sponsored” slot in the top left there, so yes, you can expect some ads and paid placement recommendations on the home screen of your future LG TV. (LG’s latest Magic Remote will also have shortcut buttons for select streaming apps including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus.)

There will be individual rows for shopping, sports scores, and the ad-sponsored LG Channels — where you can stream free programming — on the home screen. These were all separate areas of webOS before, but now they’re being moved into the spotlight. Unfortunately, LG told me there’s no way to hide rows you don’t have any use for. I really hope that changes.

LG doesn’t usually bring each year’s new version of webOS to past TVs. So if you bought an LG OLED or LCD TV sometime in the last couple years, it’s likely you’ll stay with the previous interface. But I’ve asked LG for confirmation on this since the annual changes aren’t typically this drastic.

I don’t want to give a thumbs up or down on webOS 6.0 until I’ve seen it first hand, but my early feeling is that it seems like a regression. Maybe it’ll only take a few days with one of the new sets to get a hang of this refreshed layout, and this approach will probably be easier to navigate and more intuitive for non-techies. But I’ll miss the touch of whimsy that webOS on LG TVs had until now.

On the upside, LG says the new remote will have NFC capabilities, so you can tap a smartphone against it to share content to the TV screen. And the list of voice commands for Alexa and Google Assistant has been further expanded in webOS 6.0.