Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.
As a technology consulting firm, our company has had the opportunity to work with most of the vendors in the PC market and for most of the last decade we have provided industry analysis for HP and Palm as part of our work. Consequently we have had a good understanding of HP’s vision and how they view the market. And one thing we concluded early in this decade is that HP wanted more control of their own destiny.
When HP announced they were buying Palm there were many skeptics. But we understood the long term value of Palm, and especially WebOS, as a way for HP to control their own ever-expanding eco-system of products and services.
In the past HP made hardware, and then licensed Windows, a software program they had little to no control over. Now they have the flexibility to build hardware and control the operating system component in order to build more HP-centric experiences. HP understands that to build great devices it takes more than great hardware but also great software.
Hardware is now only one-third of the equation for making great products—and by owning WebOS and adding web services as well, HP is in a strong position to control their own destiny. And if they execute well, they should develop a stronger level of loyalty from their customer base.
We are seeing the first fruits of that labor with the TouchPad tablet. Although several “Pre” smartphones have been released since the acquisition, the TouchPad is the first product that was created with the full weight of the HP and Palm teams combined.
The HP and Palm teams have created a number of interesting experiences around the TouchPad: “Touch to Share” and the location aware dock being a few of my favorites.
After using it for a week, my opinion is that the TouchPad is a very good first step for HP. More importantly, WebOS shines as a software platform on a larger screen. Everything from the card view multitasking, to the calendar and email application and even the web browser are better on the larger screen. The only thing glaringly missing is the quantity and quality of apps in HP’s App Catalog. This however is where HP’s commitment to WebOS is key.
From my discussion with key HP executives on this subject, they constantly re-enforce their commitment to this platform. HP’s plan is to bring WebOS to as many of their hardware platforms as possible. Beyond smart phones and tablets, this also includes printers, desktops, notebooks and anything else they think up in the future.
It will be that kind of commitment that is needed to generate software developer interest. Ultimately if HP can add to their App catalog the basics like the top games, news apps, social media apps, productivity apps and more, they have a real shot at a competitive platform.
Although this product could compete with Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android in consumer markets, HP is putting a significant focus on the enterprise. From the custom enterprise app stores, to underlying security layers and more, HP is using their significant weight in enterprise expertise and bringing it to WebOS. This means RIM is more the target than Apple or Google’s Android devices.
Ultimately we believe RIM is vulnerable. If HP keeps the pressure on RIM and continues to innovate, they have a great chance to take market share from RIM in the enterprise. The iPad has been slowly gaining traction in corporate accounts, as have Android devices to a lesser degree. WebOS, with HP’s weight behind it, is positioned well to have success with corporate accounts.
This does not mean that HP is not interested in consumer markets. I consider the user experience on the TouchPad to be a quality tablet experience. It simply needs more apps for consumers to be more competitive in this space.
This is where time is on HP’s side. The smart phone and tablet markets are growth categories for at least the next five years and it is still anybody’s game.