It looks like HP is finally showing full commitment to webOS; for the first time since the company acquired Palm, HP is finally saying that it will commit exclusively to webOS. The implication here is that the company won’t support Microsoft’s mobile platform, which the company has supported in early Jornada PDAs and its iPAQ line post-Compaq acquisition.
HP made the comment about its mobile strategy shift in a conversation with CNBC where “Executive Vice President Todd Bradley told me that the PC giant will exclusively use its webOS software, which it got when it closed its Palm acquisition three weeks ago.”
webOS has been under scrutiny due to Palm’s shaky position pre-HP acquisition as the platform was not able to court developers. Adobe, which had first committed to webOS in bringing its Flash plug-in, had since seemingly delayed its efforts to bringing Flash 10.1 to webOS. Similarly, while Android and iOS games and app titles have grown at a fast pace, webOS’s App Catalog is not matching the growth of its competitors’ app stores.
However, with the resources and backing of HP, including the full support of the world’s leading PC company, perhaps webOS will have a more level advantage against Apple, Google, and Microsoft, titans in the industry. While many tech reviewers and industry insiders have praised the beauty, elegance and performance of webOS, Palm had made some strategic errors with its long period of Sprint exclusivity and failure to release multiple form factors outside the Palm Pre (and Pre Plus) and Palm Pixi (and Pixi Plus) devices. HP’s resources could lead to a breadth of products running webOS–the company has already committed to printers on webOS–and could expand and scale the reach of the OS much in the same way that Windows CE, Android and iOS can be taken from smartphones to infotainment devices to car computers and tablets.
However, as a former licensee of Windows Mobile, HP should know that Microsoft also has a lot of resources in pushing its competing and forthcoming Windows Phone 7 platform. The company has shipped free testing devices to developers and all of its 90,000 plus employees worldwide will be issued a phone running Windows Phone 7. Perhaps HP can better leverage its resources to court developers to give webOS a fighting chance, much like what Google and Microsoft are doing to combat against Apple’s dominant App Store for iOS.
HP’s defection from its Microsoft roots also has implications for Microsoft, which has so far resisted to create its own branded Windows Phone 7 hardware. While the KIN was a Microsoft co-branded experience together with Sharp and Verizon Wireless, the company has not ventured into creating its own smartphone for the high-end smartphone space. Instead, Microsoft is relying on partners to do the hardware work and releasing strict guidelines to create a seamless hardware-software ecosystem that parallels Apple’s control over iPhone and iOS.
Even Dell, a long-time Microsoft ally, is releasing an Android tablet alongside its future Windows Phone 7 product. Perhaps, with manufacturers allocating resources and product lines to best boost their ROIs, Microsoft could risk entering the hardware market, much like what it had done with the Zune HD, and not turn too many heads.
However, as HP ventures off on mobile with its own strategy, it will be interesting if there will be any ripple effects across other product lines. As a Windows tablet maker, the next logical step for HP would be to offer a webOS in addition to a more full-fledged Windows tablet machine, something that’s already been rumored with the PalmPad.