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Summary:

With HP’s $1.2 billion planned acquisition of Palm, the computer giant hopes to turn Palm’s webOS operating system into a platform to rival Apple’s mobile computing franchise. An HP executive explained that he believes Apple and webOS will be the two operating systems that will win.

With HP’s $1.2 billion planned acquisition of Palm, the computer giant hopes to turn Palm’s webOS operating system into a platform to rival Apple’s mobile computing franchise. “Ultimately the Palm webOS and Apple are the two that can scale best over multiple devices and we are going to compete with Apple going forward in the broader mobile category,” said Brian Humphries, SVP of corporate strategy and development at HP.

I spoke with Humphries last night after the deal was announced, but he declined repeatedly to give details as to when or what devices may get webOS. So we have no idea if the HP Slate that Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, was waving about at CES will continue to have Windows or webOS, but we do know that HP has a big vision for webOS — it hopes to put it across an array of mobile devices, creating a platform backed by the power of HP’s sales and distribution channels to which developers will flock.

A huge portion of HP’s message around this deal is aimed at reassuring developers that webOS isn’t a dying platform and that HP is willing to invest. Humphries was adamant that developers will find a supportive HP (GigaOM Pro, sub req’d). “We’re clearly giving them dev tools, a platform they can port to, an easy financial model that’s viable to them and confidence that the OS will be scaled globally and on many different form factors,” Humphries said.

It’s clear that HP is modeling its mobile computing vision on Apple’s platform, and when I asked how many mobile operating systems the world has room for, Humphries hedged for a bit saying the market is large and that it was difficult to see how things might develop, however when pressed he said that only webOS and Apple really have the ability to scale across many devices and many markets.

As for HP’s willingness to be more open than Apple, perhaps taking a page from its personal computing heritage, it doesn’t look good. “Apple is proprietary but it also has a tremendous relationship with the app developer,” Humphries said. “And it may have a closed OS on which the app community can sit, but the apps make it open.”

By Stacey Higginbotham

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  2. Apple’s market cap is twice that of HP, so sure, HP probably wants to be the new Apple in that sense.

    Still, I don’t see this working. Apple is light years ahead with iPhone and iPad. The Android OS is already proven on mobile devices. The Windows 7 looks like it’s probably better than the webOS — and if it’s not it has superior integration with the very Microsoft products HP is so familiar with. I give webOS a generous 20 months thanks to its new sugar daddy.

    Maybe HP can evolve into something it’s not. But I doubt it.

  3. Most interesting that he didn’t mention Android. Does he not see it as a viable long-term competitor?

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Nate Thursday, April 29, 2010

      I asked about Android which is when he told me that Apple and webOS has the ability to scale across myriad devices around the world.

  4. The best way to weaken Apple is to have a great web browser. If people can develop a website instead of a proprietary app just for Apple it doesn’t make sense to build a proprietary app. I love the theory behind webOS and if the Palm was available on AT&T I would have bought a Pre instead of getting a Blackberry 9700.

    Windows 7, Android, MeeGo, Symbian^3, and WebOS need to concentrate on having the best web browser possible and it won’t matter what phone you have. With that they’ll be able to start chipping away at Apple.

    1. What browser do you think WebOS comes with? That’s right, a Webkit browser (and Android, Blackberry, Symbian). Who do you think develops Webkit? Apple.

      Don’t you remember when the iPhone was announced and Apple wanted everyone to develop web apps for it? Everyone had a fit about that and so a year later they released a programming SDK for iPhones. It wasn’t Apple’s vision that the Internet turn into a bunch of apps. That’s what people wanted because native apps give a better user experience.

    2. The problem there is, you can’t differentiate yourself with websites, any of your competitors would be able to match you.

      Apps particularly those that have to use particular frameworks and dev tools as Apple insists will help apps on that platform stand out.

      Just look at the PC manufacturers, they all use Windows, so consumers see little difference between Dell and HP products, they just buy on price.

      HP is buying Palm, so that it can own the OS and hardware that will allow them to differentiate from others and to develop the app store, something they couldn’t do with Windows or Android, because one app store would be like all the others and the apps would be the same as well.

      Developers want to be able to develop once and sell everywhere or at least many would, but that is not in the interest of Apple or HP or the device manufacturers.

    3. The problem there is, you can’t differentiate yourself with websites, any of your competitors would be able to match you.

      Apps particularly those that have to use particular frameworks and dev tools as Apple insists will help apps on that platform stand out.

      Just look at the PC manufacturers, they all use Windows, so consumers see little difference between Dell and HP products, they just buy on price.

      HP is buying Palm, so that it can own the OS and hardware that will allow them to differentiate from others and to develop the app store, something they couldn’t do with Windows or Android, because one app store would be like all the others and the apps would be the same as well.

      Developers want to be able to develop once and sell everywhere or at least many would, but that is not in the interest of Apple or HP or the device manufacturers. Plus this may also not be in the interest of consumers (although I could be wrong), apps that are designed for multiple platforms simply have generic interfaces and deliver to the lowest common set of features available.

    4. WebOS comes with a great browser. The problem was the phone was crap. If HP can put out some good hardware, then WebOS has a future. Forget the phones. Tablets and handhelds could be awesome.

  5. Giles (Webconomist) Thursday, April 29, 2010

    I’m with Brian. if they want to be anywhere near Apple they’ll have to go webOS since part of the key to Apple working so well is the tight software/middleware/hardware integration, a holy trio lost with Microsoft, and well, Google. I think the real competition will be Google vs. Apple.

  6. Would you buy the slate now? I wouldn’t, its likely that HP will move their tablet products to the webOS, now that they own it.

    Why pay MS when you own your own OS and can better integrate hardware and software, which I think is their chief reason for buying Palm.

  7. HP sounds scattered as in unfocused, could inadvertently dissipate its energies, causing internal turf wars, leading to mediocrity.

  8. HP is more similar to Microsoft than is to Apple. Apple has 4 product lines: iphone, computers, ipod, and itunes. How many lines of business does HP have? Many many more. Also, HP’s annual revenue is on the order of $100 billion. Palm will have to be hugely successful to have an impact on HP. There is no chance for the two companies to be similar, not in the foreseeable future.

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