HP Partners Ready To Hear How WebOS Will Rock Their Worlds

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.

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"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

"HP has a lot of work ahead of them in promoting WebOS, but iOS and the iPad were a leap, too," said Bob Venero, president and CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based HP partner. One of the keys to Apple's success with iOS has been keeping it lean and mean, and Venero says WebOS shares this all-important attribute. "There's not a lot of overhead with WebOS," he said.

And HP is going to need channel partners' buy-in in order to achieve its goals for WebOS, HP CEO Leo Apotheker told CRN earlier this month. "An ecosystem is not just consumer driven or fun apps, an ecosystem can also be enterprise or business apps," Apotheker told CRN. "I would be delighted to see channel partners of HP who have some logical expertise or whatever bring some of their knowledge and create vertical mobile apps for WebOS."

Many HP partners are still on the sidelines of mobility, and the practices of many of those that have are still in a fledging state. But Venero says tablets, like cloud computing, are areas that VARs need to play in because they provide a valuable link into their customers' back end enterprise systems. "The idea that work requires a full notebook PC is changing, so partners in the PC space need to make tablets at least part of their business, or they risk getting left behind," he said.

Partners are going to get their first substantive look at the channel business case around WebOS next week at APC, but Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president of HP's Americas Solution Partners Organization, says the journey to WebOS will be an ongoing one that will span the next several years. As WebOS grows and matures, HP will rely heavily on a development community -- one that includes partners -- to extend the value proposition of WebOS.

Channel partners are already considering the business model shift that cloud computing necessitates. WebOS will also require adjustment and investment on the part of partners, but HP's aware that the radical shift mobility represents might not be for everyone.

"So just like you had to invest in becoming a CNE at Cisco or you had to invest in the organizational knowledge, we are going to put that same thrust out there. If partners decide this isn't for them it's a free country," DeWitt told CRN.