Ronnie05's Blog

Why did HP fail to leverage Web OS

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on August 19, 2011

When Palm introduced the Pre, it represented a major threat to the iPhone. It was a beautiful vessel for WebOS, an elegant operating system built to solve all of the problems users had with Apple’s darling. Today, after two scant years, the phone and its subsequent tablet are dead, and any hope for future webOS products would be foolish. It is quite amazing as to how good technology, backed by the most powerful brands in the business, fall so far so fast

In April 2010, HP purchased Palm in its entirety with the intent of launching a family of webOS devices to compete with Apple. This year, the new owner inauspiciously launched several phones and a tablet, none of which lived up to reviewers’ measured expectations. The first failure of webOS was the original Pre, the Pixi, then of course the Pre 2, the Veer and now the TouchPad.HP possibly reaad the Touchpad and tablets wrong, and had to drop prices by 20% 15 days from launch. The Veer is so small and ergonomically awkward to use that many people were wondering why launch such a device after Microsoft’s fiasco with the Kin line of phones.Developers continued to ignore the platform, and so did customers.

HP is officially discontinuing operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP says that it will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward. However, since the prior sentence pretty much proclaims that webOS has no value, this is the same as saying they will multiply X by zero, and see what they get. For many who would have liked to see the emergence of WebOS as a mobile platform underdog—the HP-Palm acquisition was a waste. HP was not able to leverage on any of Palm’s strengths and deliver any thing noteworthy either in smartphone or tablet space. So then, did HP really have any concrete roadmap of what it would have done with WebOS after the acquisition. On Hindsight now, it seems that HP was intent spending $1.25 billion and did so with a lack of clarity and forthcoming thought.

1. Being slightly better isn’t good enough. Reviews back in 2009 proclaimed the Palm Pre better than the iPhone in many ways. But almost every itemized advantage, from multitasking apps to better alerts, were things that could easily be adopted. Both the dominant iPhone and the struggling cub that was Android were able to learn from the Pre’s webOS, and co-opt what mattered. Interestingly, in a year or more time, the WebOS platform did not show any development whereas iOS and Android caught up.Fast forward to this year, when HP introduced a webOS tablet that wasn’t even “slightly better,” by any reviewer’s estimates, and the story just becomes sadder.

2. Fighting the mobile device fight takes limitless resources. I really mean “limitless,” as in, no end in sight. Apple, Google and Microsoft can hammer away for a long time, building device after device, revising software and hardware in the depths of their subterranean laboratories, meeting with partners in secret, all the while filing and acquiring patents and of course, suing the pants off each other. With the exception of perhaps Amazon, not many other companies can do this. HP could have done this, but in light of the current events, it seems that HP’s priorities have changed or at-least shifted.

3. There’s no room for also-rans. When Palm entered this battle, it was a fight over phones that could give you email and surf the Web. Now it’s about operating systems that run applications. Developers spend all their time and resources on one, maybe two, platforms, honing their apps and services. That’s why there’s a precipitous drop between the number of apps available for iOS and Android products, and those for any other system. WebOS had a slick interface, but no development. (This lack of development has also plagued RIM.)

4. Consumers, like horses, smell fear and desert. The biggest telltale sign that neither Palm nor HP was certain of their joined fate was the dead silence that followed the acquisition. What few phone launches had occurred between summer 2009 and spring 2011 were marginal, and the woulda-coulda iPad killer was nowhere to be seen. So when a company launches a long-delayed product, with a speech full of excuses as to why it’s not better, negative reviews aren’t necessary. The would-be buyers already know to steer clear.

5. HP is in the PC business. It’s very hard for HP and Dell to break free of their Windows roots, because all of their attempts to branch out are effectively funded by Windows PC sales. PC sales are dropping, as the makers and Microsoft itself know all too well, but it still represents billions of dollars in sales, where these nascent phone platforms actually lose money. So for HP to say that it plans to go into the webOS tablet business, at a time when Microsoft is planning to launch its own tablet-friendly version of Windows, represents internal conflict for both the product developers and the bean counters.

It is incredibly unfortunate how a large company like HP failed to leverage the power of WebOS and create a future in consumer mobility. Now sure if it was lack of vision and action ensuing from it or it was a change of business strategy that prompted HP to volte-face. However what has happened is that WebOS has suffered as a reason. The best chance for WebOS is if somebody buys it out from HP…. possibly Facebook.

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