The HP Acquisition: What Does It Mean?

There’s been a great deal of speculation on just what the HP acquisition means for Palm and Palm’s customers. You can read examples of this speculation on virtually every news and technology site; here are some additional thoughts to go with them.

  1. HP has hardware expertise and capabilities that can be optimized for webOS, not just vice versa. It’s always been true that Palm could write webOS to take advantage of available hardware capabilities, but they were limited in their influence over what those hardware capabilities looked like. HP, however, can bring all of their hardware R&D, manufacturing, and supply chain muscle to bear to add new hardware capabilities to exploit the potential of webOS. It’s a much more powerful synergy that only Apple has so far been able to leverage in making mobile devices. And, Apple’s ability to do so is perhaps far less extensive than HP’s.
  2. Developer support will grow. This is a given–every developer that’s been on the fence about developing for webOS should now realize that the platform is relevant again. While webOS sales won’t reach iPhone and Android levels overnight, webOS will be there, where just earlier this week it seemed like webOS might not make it at all. And given everything that HP brings to the table, developers will have to give more attention to webOS whether they like it or not. Where just a few days ago it seemed like developing for webOS was a dubious proposition, now it seems that not developing for webOS is what’s dubious.
  3. Palm didn’t fail because of hardware and software, they failed because of a lack of funds. Palm did many things right in developing webOS and, despite its manufacturing and quality control issues, in producing the Pre as well. Most of what they did wrong, such as delaying the SDK and poorly promoting the platform, looks more likely due to a lack of capital than of execution expertise. And if there’s one thing HP brings to the table most immediately, it’s cash. I expect to see webOS development and promotional activities accelerate tremendously, which will help in building on the developer support discussed in #2 above. Note that this isn’t to say that Palm’s advertising hasn’t been of questionable value, but advertising is only one aspect of promotions, and with more saturation even Palm’s original advertising would have been more effective.
  4. HP has strong carrier relationships. What was a real weakness for Palm–carrier relationships–has suddenly become a strength. Given that HP supplies significant infrastructure for so many of the world’s leading carriers, I doubt that we’ll see a repeat of the Verizon fiasco. And carriers who, like developers, were less inclined to back Palm given its uncertain future should now be far more comfortable in adding HP Palm devices to their lineups and promoting them to customers.
  5. HP has a an outstanding retail channel. Expect to see strong support for Palm products in HP’s vast retail channel. You can find HP computers everywhere from Best Buy to Costco, and I imagine we’ll see HP Palm smartphones, tablets, and netbooks showing up everywhere as well. This ubiquity can do nothing but spur the kind of market penetration Palm execs could have only dreamt of just a few short days ago.
  6. webOS will be scale much more quickly. I’ve long had a dream: an HP Slate-type that dual-boots Windows 7 and webOS. Now, that dream is not only possible, but likely. The combination would provide a (potentially, because webOS needs some work here) fast-booting, lightweight, highly connected mobile OS for browsing, content consumption, and apps, while Windows 7 with active digitizer (read, pen) support with MS Office makes for a powerful productivity device. Palm could have eventually developed a tablet running webOS; HP makes it possible much sooner and across many more device types.

webosroundup.com provides a nice compilation of stories here. Suffice it to say, some webOS fans had a bit of a bunker mentality a few days ago. Now, it seems like loyalty to the platform is about to pay off in a big way, albeit with some questions remaining as to exactly how HP plans on integrating Palm into its product lineup and how quickly we can start seeing the benefits.

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