A Pre Owner's Take on the HP-Palm Deal

So it's Hewlett-Packard after all.

After weeks of rumors over various Palm suitors, HP announced today that it will buy Palm for $1.2 billion.

The good news for Palm smartphone owners is that HP doesn't have an obvious competing product to Palm's webOS mobile operating system. And that means HP doesn't have incentive to a) pay more than a billion dollars for the company and then b) kill off its most valuable asset. (It seems highly unlikely that HP would shell out that kind of money just to protect the iPAQ and its Windows-based platform.)

The bad news is that HP doesn't have a track record of wild success in the smartphone space, and I'm not sure knowledge of other mobile devices translates all that well into effectively promoting webOS from the Web app margins.

WebOS is a nice operating system. Any OS can stand improvement, and certainly it needs technology resources to keep it from falling behind down the road. But for now, webOS is already an able competitor.

What it needs right now is marketing muscle. It needs a company that can entice developers of must-have apps to create versions for webOS. And that won't be easy, since Palm has been falling farther and farther behind in the mobile app race. A year or two ago that might not have mattered so much; but now, buyers want and expect access to cutting-edge applications along with e-mail, Web browsing, music and video. No, most people don't need (or want) tens of thousands of apps on their smartphones. But as a Palm Pre owner, it's been somewhat disheartening watching webOS move down into also-ran territory when it comes to available applications.

In early info released about the deal, HP talked about creating a "connected, mobile ecosystem" with webOS, and an integrated platform for mobile cloud-based services. So HP's main goal could be leveraging webOS for other products and platforms.

However, in announcing its planned acquisition, HP did cite the attractions of the smartphone market -- more than $100 billion and growing 20% per year. So I doubt HP wants to give up in the cell phone arena. Nevertheless, they could cede the consumer smartphone app race to iPhone and Android, and concentrate on other webOS-based offerings. In which case the good news for me is that I can switch platforms when my cell phone contract is up.

Want to keep up with the latest on the Palm deal? Subscribe to Computerworld's Palm RSS feed or bookmark our HP Update page.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000 or subscribe to her RSS feeds:
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