HP Exec Lashes Out At Apple's Channel Myopia

Hewlett Packard knows it has a tough fight on its hands in the tablet and smartphone market, where Apple has raced out to a big lead on the strength of astonishing iOS developer momentum. But HP insists its strong channel partner pedigree will make the WebOS development story a more compelling and profitable one than Apple's.

HP is planning major investments in training partners to add WebOS development and mobility practices to their product mix. Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president of HP's Americas Solution Partners Organization, suggests that the level of partner commitment HP brings to bear is pretty much unheard of within Apple's iOS development ecosystem.

"Apple's relationship with partners is transactional, completely. Apple doesn’t have an inclusive philosophy of partner capabilities, and that's just absurd," DeWitt said in an interview Monday at HP's Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas.

Solution providers that have done business with Apple have voiced similar concerns in the past. Those that continue selling Apple products have done so despite feeling, in some cases, like Apple doesn't have their best interests at heart. But mobility is an area of IT that hasn't been traditionally handled by the channel, so it's tough to say that Apple is missing the boat here.

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HP, nonetheless, is forging ahead with its partner-oriented WebOS message. One solution provider that has worked with both companies says HP could carve out an advantage by getting partners to embrace WebOS.

"Unlike Apple, HP is very channel friendly. And if you have an issue with HP you can pick up the phone and talk to someone. That's something that's impossible with Apple. As an Apple partner, I can say that it really feels like they're holding you hostage sometimes," said the source.

HP's efforts to build WebOS and mobility expertise inside its partner base is currently being funded from outside the PartnerONE program, but in fiscal 2012 these elements will be completely integrated into the program, and the incentives HP places around application practices will be clear, said DeWitt. To get the ball rolling, HP will build an Elite-type designation for mobility, as it has done previously with emerging product categories, said DeWitt.

WebOS momentum won't materialize overnight, DeWitt admits, but HP's investments should translate into more partners getting on board over the course of the coming year.

"This will bring new partners to us because we are getting into the application space, which involves muscles that we haven't exercised in some time," he said. "This is new business for our partners, and its new business for HP, and we're going to learn where we need to invest."

Next: What Partners Are Doing On WebOS

In mid-March, HP unveiled its plan to use WebOS to link devices such as PCs, tablets, printers, and smart phones. Palm plans to eventually load WebOS on all its products , and it's devoting significant time at this year's APC to get partners on board with its vision.

Synnex, interestingly, is one of the first HP partners to build a WebOS development team. Synnex built a WebOS application that contains information and scheduling for HP's APC event, in an effort to show its development skills built around the platform.

One HP partner told CRN he's impressed with the move and says there's plenty of business in health-care, manufacturing and point of sale applications.

"Synnex is doing something that is vital to the growth of the WebOS," said the source, who requested anonymity. "If Synnex can be first to market an applications market, they could entrench themselves into the customer and partner. This is a way to build loyalty with the partner community."

But other HP partners are less sanguine about the viability of WebOS given the crowded state of the market. "I don't hear much about webOS in the marketplace, and it's going to be tough to build a mobility practice around it," said one HP partner, who was granted anonymity. "Apple and Android are the two established marketplaces out there. On the tablet side, why wouldn't you just get an iPad?"

There's a lot of noise in the mobile application development space, and the chatter is growing louder with HP now in the mix with WebOS. It's safe to say partners are interested in WebOS and the incentives HP is offering to get them on board. But whether that interest translates into significant developer momentum remains to be seen.