The perils of a confused mobile strategy for Hewlett-Packard
By Chantal Tode
November 10, 2011
HP's indecisiveness is hurting WebOS
The last couple of months have not been easy for WebOS developers, with the future of the mobile operating system in question as Hewlett-Packard considers what role to play in the mobile space.
Following HP’s announcement in August that it would no longer make smartphones and tablets on WebOS, the future of the mobile operating system has been in question even as new leadership took control of the company, asserting its commitment to tablets on Windows 8. The lack of a clear message about the future of WebOS could further hurt the ailing platform.
“The base of developers on WebOS is now kind of spinning – they are wondering what is going to happen with WebOS,” said Crawford Del Prete, chief research officer at IDC, Framingham, MA.
“It is not that HP can’t sell products with its current strategy, it’s that HP is not sending messages that are going to nurture its WebOS strategy,” he said.
“The implication is that the WebOS will continue to whither and HP runs the risk of that community falling apart if they don’t come out and say whether they are going to support WebOS or come back out and develop devices for it.”
In fact, there are signs that WebOS is already starting to whither, with HP employees in the WebOS group leaving the company, per Mr. Del Prete.
The uncertainty about WebOS did not clear up when former eBay CEO Meg Whitman recently took over the reins at the company.
Ms. Whitman is reportedly mulling the fate of WebOS and has said she will reach a decision in the next few weeks.
The company is said to be considering all options for WebOS, including selling it, licensing it or reinvigorating it.
In the mean time, rumors of a possible sale continue to circulate.
Earlier this week, it was reported that HP was evaluating a potential sale of WebOS for less than the $1.2 million it paid for Palm Inc. in 2010.
Likely suitors for WebOS include Oracle Corp., HTC, Samsung, Facebook and Amazon.
While big companies such as HP need to proceed carefully before investing heavily in new areas, if HP waits too long in the fast-moving mobile space it runs the risk of getting left behind.
“HP has done a terrible job of explaining its mobile device strategy to the industry,” said Neil Mawston, England-based director of global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics.
“HP is struggling to cope with the lightning shift toward touchscreens and consumer clouds and the company has been paralyzed for months,” he said.
“HP’s timing to attack the tablet and possibly smartphone markets is late. HP has a lot of hard work ahead if it wants to be taken seriously as a mobile device player.”
Mobile operating systems require significant support beyond the parent company in order to become thriving ecosystems that attract developers and consumers.
It is such support that HP is risking losing by not being clear about its intentions for WebOS.
“Being able to attract and retain developers on the platform is huge,” Mr. Del Prete said.
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the mobile operating system, it is premature to think that WebOS is already dead in the water.
“There is a vastly overstated perception that WebOS is dead,” Mr. Del Prete said. “There is a lot of IP there.”
It has been suggested that several companies might be interested in purchasing WebOS for the intellectual property alone.
If HP decides to keep WebOS, the challenge is going to be rebuilding support for the operating system.
“If they are going to fund and build WebOS, their challenge is going to be continuing to fund it at the level that is required to make it a competitive operating system going forward,” Mr. Del Prete said.
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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Comments on "The perils of a confused mobile strategy for Hewlett-Packard"
Tim Fielding says:
November 15, 2011 at 4:21pm