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These are sure to go down as interesting times in the annals of HP history. In addition to some seismic management moves in recent months, HP is making major changes to its product strategy that reflect the industry's headlong dive into virtualization, cloud computing and mobility. And at the center of many of these changes is WebOS.
In mid-March, HP unveiled its plan to use WebOS to link devices such as PCs, tablets, printers, and smart phones. The name of this game is connectivity, and HP plans to eventually load WebOS on all its products, using the glittering jewel of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm to deliver a single user interface that connects home, mobile, and enterprise users and allows information to be accessed at any time from any device.
Chris Barnes, vice president of research and solutions development at Gap Intelligence, a San Diego-based research firm that follows HP, says the strategy, as laid out thus far, looks promising. "There's a real value behind the idea of building an integrated ecosystem of devices and services, using webOS to help link together these devices," said Barnes.
HP's uphill battle over the coming months will be communicating the value of the unique abilities and strengths of webOS to partners, investors, and most importantly to customers, according to Barnes. That challenge, solution providers say, grows more formidable when one considers the increasingly crowded mobility market and the entrenched positions of the incumbents.
"The question with WebOS is, are there enough developers around to support yet another platform?" said Steve Beauregard, president of Santa Monica, Calif.-based mobile applications developer Regard Solutions.
Regard Solutions isn't an HP partner but is knee deep in the kind of mobile development business HP would love to see materialize around WebOS. Regard currently has distinct development teams for BlackBerry, Android, & Objective-C on the mobile side and Java, .Net/Azure and LAMP on the server side. Beauregard says he's been asked to bid on jobs that require expertise with Samsung's SDK, Yahoo! Connect TV and Sony's SDK.
He sees RIM's recent decision to support Android applications on the PlayBook as a sign of a trend toward consolidation. "There is only so much room in the market, and I personally think WebOS is a bit of a 'Hail Mary' for HP," he said. "I've heard of great features, but if they're truly great the others will quickly catch on and eat their lunch."
HP plans to ship its WebOS TouchPad tablet and Pre3 and Veer smartphones this summer and is also developing a version of WebOS that's accessible via the Web. By 2012, HP says WebOS will come loaded on all its PCs, although the company hasn't offered any insight into how this might enhance the user experience of these products.
In fact, despite WebOS' key role going forward, HP hasn't offered concrete insight into how it'll help partners from a business standpoint, although this is expected to be a big topic of conversation at next week at HP's Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas. Still, despite the largely unproven nature of WebOS -- the Palm Pre was a nice device but didn't cause people to line up outside stores on launch day -- HP partners are willing to give HP the benefit of the doubt.
NEXT: An HP Partner's View Of WebOS