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R.I.P. webOS…Or Maybe Not?

Editor’s Note:  The Enterprise Mobility Foundation is proud to welcome Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, as its latest guest columnist.  Jack is a recognized industry expert, analyzing various aspects of enterprise mobility.  Like the other guest columnists, Jack will provide this community tremendous and colorful insights on the subject.  Welcome, Jack!

HP has released its first new smartphone device running the latest version of webOS, a modern OS that could have been a real contender 1-2 years earlier. But, is webOS a credible smartphone differentiator in a very crowded market? Is it enough to reignite the Palm/Pre brand, or is it just too late?

Today’s smartphone market is very different from the market Palm helped build. In my opinion, it’s too late for HP to release a webOS smartphone that captures any real market share from iPhone, Android or BlackBerry. Palm aficionados have largely moved on – mostly to Android. Consumers are largely unaware of Palm’s new OS. Carrier relationships are weak at best. And HP has less than a stellar record in smartphones, having been in the business for years with little to show for it. So it’s unlikely an HP branded phone will demand much attention, either from consumers, or ultimately from the carriers through which HP must channel the devices. And even with increasing acceptance of user liable devices, it is unlikely webOS smartphones will have any real impact in the enterprise.

But HP may still have an opportunity with webOS in the tablet market, if it acts soon and forcefully. This market is still forming and there is no dominant player yet (although Apple is certainly strong and Android will be a major contender). Despite HP’s recent release of its Windows 7 based tablet for the enterprise user, there is still plenty of room to do what HP does best – design and mass market devices. The majority of tablets will ultimately be sold through retail and HP has incredibly strong relationships with all of the major retailers worldwide. An inexpensive but highly capable webOS tablet could be very successful, and a real challenger to iPad and Android tablets. And with an understanding of the enterprise market, HP could build a compelling device for business users as well.

It is unlikely HP will be able to compete with Android and iOS (or even Windows) for the minds and hearts of app developers for webOS targeted apps. But Web connectivity will make that less of an issue since so many will run in the cloud through the browser (e.g., HTML5).

So the tablet is HP’s real opportunity for the remnants of Palm and it’s webOS – not the smartphone market. But I wonder if management is up to the task. My advice to Todd Bradley and his executive team of mostly ex-Palmites is forget about smartphones and concentrate on tablets. My advice to end users is forget about Palm webOS-based phones altogether, and consider webOS tablets where it makes sense (when and if HP has competitive and timely offerings).

Jack Gold is President of J. Gold Associates.  You can connect with him here.

5 Comments

  1. Posted November 1, 2010 at 13:20 | Permalink

    Two things. I agree that the greater potential for HP and webOS will be in the emerging tablet space. Second, not sure if you caught wind of this, but HP just announced it will be selling Palm devices directly.

    http://bit.ly/cnVLc5

    Google certainly didn’t have much luck with this, so it will be interesting to see how HP can do a better job.

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    • Posted November 1, 2010 at 13:29 | Permalink

      The difference of course is that HP has always sold such things and will continue to sell such things…and users of HP hardware who buy through their Web site – like I do – are likely to tak a look and perhaps consider it. Or not (I won’t).

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  2. Posted November 1, 2010 at 13:21 | Permalink

    HP is going to weave a ‘web’ of WebOS-based peripherals, all of which will neatly and hopefully elegantly interact with each other wirelessly (of course). The hub of all of this wireless connectivity will indeed be WebOs tablets (tablets being the key reason and grand strategy behind HP acquiring WebOS – ok, it acquired Palm and its mobile phones too, but it wanted WebOS). HP’s new management leader is a true concern. That an ex-SAP dude with a long term history of focusing on battling Oracle is likely to continue focusing on Oracle at the expense of a lot of HP initiatives is my concern.

    Tony Rizzo
    Mobile Masters Community

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    • Posted November 1, 2010 at 14:33 | Permalink

      Tony – If Léo Apotheker’s overall strategy for HP will become Oracle focused, I think HP will have a lot more problems on its hands beyond having spent $1.2 billion on Palm…And to your first comment, I too have a lot of HP gear here in the office (and at home), so I think they could figure out some compelling use cases for a webOS tablet.

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  3. Posted November 2, 2010 at 11:48 | Permalink

    Tony – I agree with your assessment that WebOS was acquired by HP for many other things than smartphones. This post was an abbreviated piece of a longer note which you can read here if you’d care to:
    http://jgoldassociates.com/Commentary_and_Analysis.html

    Also, I agree with you that if Apotheker focuses solely on Oracle and SAP, then HP is in long term trouble. What is also interesting is, since many senior execs where passed by for the CEO slot, how many will jump ship? I expect we’ll see a good number leave, which may also put stress on HP’s business. So the future is a bit foggy right now.

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