This article is exclusively for subscribers to the Think.Tank.
On Oct. 3, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman will give analysts her strategy for restoring the battered tech giant. A close look at the company’s financials and its business suggests that it has the strengths to stay around for a long time. But years of boardroom drama have taken a heavy toll that make it difficult for the company to return to industry leadership.
How does HP make its money? As the table below shows, more than half its revenues come from personal systems, primarily Windows desktops and laptops for consumers and businesses, and from imaging and printing, a line of business ranging from $50 inkjets to Indigo presses for commercial printing. Services, largely enterprise systems integration and outsourcing, contribute about 28%, and enterprise servers, storage, networking, and software most of the rest. The problem is simple: The companies HP wants to be most like are Apple on the consumer side and IBM for enterprise. But the company is that the company it currently most resembles is Dell.
HP 2011 Performance by Sector
|Net revenue||Share of sales||Earnings from operations||Net margin||Share of earnings|
|Imaging & Printing||25,783||19.8%||3,973||15.4%||25.6%|
|Enterprise Servers, Storage & Networking||22,241||17.1%||3,026||13.6%||19.5%|
|Total from operations||130,365||100.0%||15,544||11.9%||100.0%|
A SWOT analysis–strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats–is useful for assessing HP’s prospects.
Strengths: For all its recent problems, HP has the most important thing for a company in need of reinvention–a solid financial base. It remains nicely, if not spectacularly, profitable and has strong cash flow. It is the dominant player in its two largest sectors, PCs and printing. It has mastered supply-chain and channel management, It competes on a global scale and enjoys strong worldwide brand recognition.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately for HP, this is a much longer list. The overarching problem is a consequence of endless boardroom turmoil. Mark Hurd replaced a flailing Carly Fiorina. He dramatically improved execution, but at the expense of ruthless cost-cutting that trimmed muscle as well as fat. Hurd’s dramatic ouster was followed by the brief, disastrous tenure of Léo Apotheker. When Whitman was appointed, she took command of a disoriented and badly demoralized company, knocked between post and pillar by ever-changing top-level strategies. Given that, it’s a wonder that HP isn’t in worse shape than it is.
Personal systems is #1 in many of its markets. According to Gartner, HP has been tops in worldwide unit PC volume for five straight years. It beat back a surging Acer, though it is now threatened by a rising Lenovo. The problem is that these are largely commodity markets in which HP’s products offer little differentiation and not a lot of profit. And the question facing the traditional PC business is not whether it will decline, but how quickly.
The action is moving to phones and tablets, and HP is not yet a player in either market. HP was a leader in handheld devices in the pre-smartphone era. The Microsoft PocketPC-powered iPAQ, acquired when HP bought Compaq in 2001, was the most successful challenger to Palm in the PDA market. But unlike other PDAs, the iPAQ failed to evolve into a phone and HP was left behind.
HP’s 2010 purchase of Palm was supposed to solve two fundamental PSG problems: Its weakness in mobile and its total dependence on Microsoft for critical software. It was a bold plan, and PSG chief Todd Bradley talked bravely of a version of webOS that would run on Windows PCs to give a unified experience across PCs, phones, and tablets. Unfortunately, Apotheker wanted to dump PSG, not invest in it. The webOS operation was tossed in a cell, starved, and ultimately taken out and shot, leaving HP without a dog in the increasingly important mobile fight.
HP’s enterprise businesses–hardware, services, software, and financing–contribute about half of sales and about 60% of profits, but they are hardly industry stars. This years, HP took an $8 billion writedown of its 2008 acquisition of EDS and its 2011 purchase of Autonomy enterprise analytics software–at an $11 billion price that many analysts considered too high–has yet to pay dividends. HP continues to be a pale challenger to industry leader IBM in nearly all enterprise categories and the jury is still out on its challenge to Cisco’s dominance of enterprise routing,
Threats. The failure of the webOS strategy left HP more beholden to Microsoft than ever. HP have a reasonably attractive line of products including Ultrabooks, hybrid tablets with keyboard docks, and straight tablets ready for the Windows 8 launch. For the time being, HP has decided to forgo entering the Windows RT (ARM-based) tablet market infov of Intel-powered Windows 8.
One challenge is that the introduction of the Surface tablets, Microsoft is also becoming a competitor. For HP to get into the mobile game, it needs Windows 8 to make it big, but without Surface becoming the iPad of Windows products. This could end up being a very narrow path.
HP also has to complete its portfolio with a smartphone line. Having blown the webOS opportunity, HP’s only real choices are Windows Phone 8 and Android, and HP’s general Windows-centricity argues for WP8. But once again, that would leave HP at the mercy of Microsoft’s success, and competing as a new entrant against HTC and Nokia, the latter having bet the company on Windows Phone.
The printer business continues to be a cash cow for HP, with sales of high-margin ink and toner providing reliable annuity income streams for some years to come. It’s also true, however, that printing is in a long term secular decline that is likely to accelerate as tablets replace printed documents. This will cut into HP’s sales of generally low-margin printers and hihgly profitable consumables.
HP’s enterprise service business is big and reasonably profitable, but it is concentrated in the relatively low end of the business, such as operations outsourcing, rather than the high-end integration dominated by companies such as IBM and Accenture. HP has to find a way to push its way up the food chain.
Opportunities. The data center switching and routing market is ripe for disruption. HP is pushing its OpenFlow technology hard as a software-based alternative to specialized, dedicated hardware (read Cisco.) HP is right about the direction of technology, but Cisco has read the same tea leaves and has shown itself to be a nimble competitor.
Autonomy was a big play to get into the fast growing but fragmented enterprise analytics market. The high price will limited the return on investment in purely financial terms, but if HP makes it work, it could make the company a much more significant enterprise software player.
HP’s culture—the vaunted “HP Way” created by Dave Packard and Bill Hewitt–has taken horrible blows in recent years. HP Labs, once second only to IBM Research in the industry, has been hollowed out by savage budget cuts and staff reductions. But HP is still an engineering company at heart and retains a great deal of talent waiting to be used effectively. That–not spending cuts, better marketing–is the only real route to HP’s long-term success,
Two weeks ago, the industry was abuzz with discussion about Meg Whitman’s Fox Business interview on September 13. There, she said HP must ultimately offer a smartphones. This set off a chain of new stories, some aghast that HP would be considering something like this given HP’s last foray in phones. Most of the ire stems from HP’s exit and dismantling of Palm and webOS last year versus a strategic analysis. Upon closer analysis though, this makes perfect, strategic sense for HP.
HP’s last foray in phones didn’t end pretty. In less 18 months, Palm and webOS was acquired by HP and then shuttered. In less than 60 days, the HP TouchPad was launched then discontinued. There was nothing positive about how this ended for HP, Palm, webOS, retail partners, employees or its app ecosystem. At this point, none of this matters in the future and it really is time to move on. The discussion must start at the value of the smartphone.
I have been unapologetically bullish on where I see smartphones into the future. There is a credible scenario where the smartphone could take on most of our client computing roles. In this scenario, the smartphone is a modular device, which “beams” data to wireless displays and peripherals. Modular operating systems with modular development environments like Android and Windows will enable developers to write once and deploy to many different kind of form factors. Just imagine how much better this will be in five years. Even at IDF 2012, Intel showed this scenario in their WiGig video, albeit with a tablet, but there’s nothing to keep this from being a phone. I want to be clear that this (heavy modularity) will only happen if PC usage models stagnate to the point where they don’t need tremendously more compute performance or storage. If Intel is successful with their Perceptual Computing initiative, the probability of this scenario greatly decreases as the smartphone won’t be able to deliver the required performance. HP then must develop a smartphone if they want to be in the future client hardware business. Meg Whitman also talked emerging markets.
Meg Whitman touched on this modularity potential when she talked emerging regions. She talked about how in some countries, the smartphone would be their first computing device and in some cases their only computing device, meaning they will never own a PC or tablet. The first point here is price. In many countries, people will only be able to afford one device, and that device will be a smartphone. Secondly, due to the modularity scenario described above, it will extend to other usage models, like desktop computing. I don’t think anyone can find fault in Meg Whitman’s logic. Let’s now look into enterprise.
Today, two of the biggest buzzwords is “BYOD” or the “consumerization of IT”. Don’t confuse this with the ability to get corporate mail on your iPhone. That’s not BYOD. BYOD is getting full enterprise network, application, security, and management access. That’s a lot different than mail, but many “experts” do confuse this very important point. Imagine how important this is in a healthcare, financial, government, or even any business that develops any kind of IP. You get the point. This is where HP could meet a need for a phone and enterprise management system for that phone, so it is managed just like an enterprise PC. Given HP’s enterprise focus, it makes perfect sense for HP to offer an enterprise-class smartphone with enterprise security, manageability, and deployment capabilities. Does this mean it will be an ugly brick? No. I’m speculating a bit, but I think it will be an attractive phone, but it will be durable enough to be dropped once without shattering the screen or glass backing. As its designed for durability, it will be waterproof, too. HP has an opportunity, the one opportunity that RIM and BlackBerry missed, and that’s an enterprise phone.
There are many strategic reasons for HP to offer a smartphone that are very logical, given the enterprise and emerging region needs explored above. Given HP’s enterprise focus and experience in managed client devices, they have a lot of value to add, too. Add that to the modularity scenario and it essentially would make HP look crazy not to get back into smartphones. I outlined here that PC makers cannot run away from smartphones, so I am very happy to see HP getting back in. As for execution? While fresh in the industry’s mind, I think it’s time for all of us to get beyond webOS and give HP another shot.
When HP abandoned their smartphone and tablet business and webOS last August, many in the industry were disappointed in the speed of the Palm acquisition and the quick dismantling of it. Some who consider themselves "business-savvy" said it was the wise approach as it wasn’t core to HP’s corporate mission. They said that smartphones were a distraction to competing with IBM and even Dell. We won’t know until 3-5 years from now whether it was a good decision or not.
I believe though, that just as PC companies fought to stay away from the sub-$1,000 PC market in the 90’s, PC makers who don’t embrace smartphones could be out of the client hardware business in 5 years.
Over the last 20 years, PC hardware and software have done this little dance where one is ahead of the other. New software came out that required better hardware, then the new hardware outpaced the old software and the cycle continued. With the better hardware and software came new features and usage models like multimedia, desktop publishing, 3D games, DVD video, videoconferencing, digital photography, the visual internet, and video editing. Then Microsoft Vista was launched and it seemed no matter how much hardware users threw at it, issues still existed. Microsoft then spent the next few years fixing Vista and launched Windows 7 instead of developing environments for new rich client usage models. Windows 7 actually took less hardware resources than Vista, the first time a Microsoft OS could say this. Microsoft is even publicly communicating that Windows 8 will take less resources than Windows 7. So what happened? Did the industry run out of usage models to consume rich PC cycles? No, there are many usage models that need to be developed that use rich PC clients.
What happened was netbooks, smartphones and tablets. Netbooks threatened Microsoft and forced them to re-configure Windows XP for the the small, cheap laptops. This was in response to the first netbooks, loaded with Linux, getting shipped into Best Buy and direct on the internet. In retrospect this wasn’t a threat to Microsoft, as those netbooks had a reported 50%+ return rate. After netbooks came MIDs and after MIDs failed came touch smartphones and the iPad. Once the iPhone and iPad showed strong sales it was clear that the center of design was moving to mobility even though needs the rich client PC could solve didn’t just go away.
Windows 8 and Rich PC Clients
Windows 8 was clearly architected to provide a tablet alternative to the iPad and stem the flow from Windows to iOS and Android. Most of the work has been to provide a new user and development environment called Metro, WinRT and to enable ARM SOCs. None of these investments does a single thing to propel the traditional rich PC client forward, maybe with the exception of enabling touch on an all-in-one desktop. Without Microsoft making major investments to propel the rich client forward, it won’t move forward even to the dismay of Intel, AMD and Nvidia. I want to be clear that there are still problems that the rich client PC can solve but the software ecosystem and VC investment is enamored primarily with tablet, smartphones and the cloud. Without Microsoft’s investment in rich PC clients, thinner clients like phones and tablets will evolve at a much faster rate than rich PCs.
The Consequences of Not Investing in the Rich PC Client
With the software ecosystem driving "thin" clients at a much faster rate than "rich" clients, the consequences start to emerge. We are seeing them around us every today. Users are spending more time with their tablets and smartphones than they are with their PCs. Savvy users are doing higher-order content creation like photo editing, video editing and even making music with GarageBand. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need their PCs today. They do, because neither smartphones nor tablets can do everything what a PC or Mac can do…. at least today. Display size, input method and lack of software modulraity are the biggest challenges today.
Enter Smartphone Modularity
Today, many users in traditional regions require at least a smartphone and a PC, and a tablet is an adder. Tomorrow, if users can easily attach a keyboard to a tablet via a convertible design, they may not need a PC as we know it today. It’s not a productive discussion if we debate if we call this a PC with a removable display or a tablet with a keyboard. What’s important is that some users won’t need three devices, they’ll just need two.
What about having just one compute device, a smartphone, and the rest of the devices are merely displays or shells? Sounds a bit aggressive but lets peel this back:
- Apps: If you believe that the smartphone ecosystem and apps moves a lot faster than the rich client ecosystem, then that says that thin clients at some point will be able to run the same rich apps as a PC. Then the question becomes, "when".
- OS/Dev Environment: iOS, Windows, and Android are all becoming modular, in that their goal is that you write once and deploy everywhere. Specifically, write once for a dev environment and deploy to a watch, phone, tablet, PC and TV or console.
- Hardware: Fixed function blocks and programmable blocks on tablet and smartphone SOCs are taking over many of the laborious tasks general purpose CPUs once worked on. This is why many smartphones can display a beautiful 1080P video on an HDTV. This is true for video decode, video and photo cleanup, and natural user interfaces too. 3D graphics will continue to be an important subsystem in the SOC block.
- Display: With WiDi, WiFi Direct, and WiFi AC on the mainstream horizon, there’s no reason to think that a user cannot beautifully display their apps from their 4" smartphone display to a 32" high resolution PC display. Today with my iPhone 4s I can display 1024×768 via AirPlay mirroring with a little lag but that’s today via a router and WiFi network. I can connect today via hardwire and it looks really good. In the future, the image and fonts will scale resolutions to the display and the lag will disappear, meaning I won’t even need to physically dock my smartphone. It will all be done wirelessly.
- Peripherals: Already today, depending on the OS, smartphones can accept keyboard, mouse and joystick via Bluetooth, WiFi or USB. The fact that an iPad cannot use a mouse is about marketing and not capability.
Smartphone Modularity a Sure Bet?
As in life, there are no sure things, but the smartphone and cloud ecosystem will be driving toward smartphone modularity to the point where they want you to forget about PCs. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are building scalable operating systems and development environments to support this. Why Microsoft? I believe they see that the future of the client is the smartphone and if they don’t win in smartphones, they could lose the future client. They can’t just abandon PCs today, so they are inching toward that with a scalable Metro-Desktop interface and dev environment. Metro for Windows 8 means for Metro apps not just for the PC, but for the tablet and the Windows smartphone. The big question is, if Microsoft sees the decline of the PC platform in favor of the smartphone, then why aren’t all the Windows PC OEMs seeing this too? One thing I am certain of- the PC industry cannot ignore the smartphone market or they won’t be in the client computing market in the long-term.
My colleague at Tech.pinions, Steve Wildstrom, wrote a great piece last Friday that chronicles Palm’s past and suggested that webOS is at the end of the road. While he may be right, a part of me wants to think that at least Web OS could live on even if Palm as we knew it has lost most of its key staff and any talent left have been absorbed into HP.
The key reason for HP’s decision to buy Palm, and use webOS, is that after years of being tied to Windows and then looking at the prospect of being caught up in a similar relationship with Google and Android for their mobile devices, they made the calculated decision to back webOS. And in buying it, it was supposed to assure them that at the mobile device level, they could finally control their own destiny and not be forced to back Android and all of the things Google demands associated with Google product attachments in order to use it.
Not long after Palm started development of webOS, our firm, Creative Strategies, was asked to look at this new mobile OS and work with them on mobile use cases. As a result of this project, we got to see webOS up close and through this exercise, we began to understand that this was, at the time, the best mobile OS available. Since we did that project, Android and iOS have emerged as major operating systems for mobile devices, but from our work with webOS, we still consider it better than Android and in some ways equal to iOS.
One of the things we discovered early on is that webOS is built on WebKit and as a result, software developers can use standard Web development tools to create apps. We saw this as a real advantage since it meant that Web developers as well as professional software designers could write apps and we expected a robust eco system of apps to evolve quickly.
However, HP was slow in getting an actual tablet to market with webOS and given the competitive landscape, it was pretty much DOA when it did finally ship. And as you perhaps know, Their webOS tablet was killed after only a week on the market.
Last Friday, HP’s CEO, Meg Whitman apparently said in some media interviews that HP would bring out a webOS tablet in 2013. However, I went back to HP to clarify that statement and while my sources did not refute what she said, they hinted that what they most likely will do is look for new form factors to use for supporting Web OS and that a tablet may be one of them, although that is not in stone at the moment.
For now, webOS will move into an Open Source environment and although HP will have a dedicated team of developers contributing to the further development of Web OS, now many other developers can also add to and enhance webOS as well. That means that webOS should get even better than it is today. Given that perspective, I would like to suggest that webOS could and should have a third chance at life in the mobile market.
One key reason is that webOS is really an excellent mobile OS that is built on a strong foundation and is easy to develop for. Another reason is that to date, there have been no legal or patent claims against it and as far as I can tell, it is legally the cleanest mobile OS available. And third, smartphone and tablet vendors are still interested in a third OS or more specifically an OS in which there are no strings attached.
This last item is important. Samsung recently decided to back a third OS called Tizen (formerly known as Moblin, ) as they wanted an OS that they could control on their own. But they chose Tizen because webOS was not available and at the time, Tizen was the best option available that they could choose. Many in the industry thought Samsung would actually bid for webOS after HP said the were going to drop this OS, but its price tag back the was probably over $1 billion. But now, with it going to Open Source, it would not surprise me if some of the tablet vendors, especially those on the fence when it comes to backing Windows 8 for Tablets, decide to use webOS at least for their consumer products even if they have Android products in the works. The main reason they might consider this is that with webOS they would have control of their own destiny and not be forced to adhere to and be driven by Google and Microsoft on future products.
I don’t know if webOS will gain traction, but given the fact that it is a great mobile OS that is very easy to develop for, and one that would give vendors more control of their mobile futures, it would be a shame if it does not see the light of day in some other new mobile products and form factors in the near future.
I was delighted back in the spring of 2010 when Hewlett-Packard announced it was buying Palm. I’ve been a fan of Palm for 15 years, but throughout its history, the company has always been hamstrung by a lack of adequate financial resources. With mighty HP behind it, Palm could finally reach its destiny.
I couldn’t imagine that 20 months later, after wasting more than $3 billion, HP would put Palm’s sole remaining asset, the webOS operating system, out at the curb with a “Free to a Good Home” sign around its neck. (I’m sorry, I simply cannot credit HP CEO Meg Whitman’s claim in an interview with The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky that we’d eventually see new HP tablets and smartphones powered by webOS. If HP meant that, it wouldn’t have let the webOS team scatter to the winds.)
But if it’s a sad end to the Palm line, it is somehow a fitting one. Palm always was a company that couldn’t buy a break.
Palm’s troubles started at the very beginning. Having failed to raise venture capital funding to get the original Palm Pilot manufactured and marketed, founders Donna Dubinsky, Jeff Hawkins, and Ed Colligan had to sell the company to modem maker U.S. Robotics in 1996. Almost immediately, U.S. Robotics turned around and sold itself to 3Com. It’s not clear that 3Com was more than dimly aware that Palm was part of the deal. It certainly clear that 3Com never had any idea of what to do with it.
Palm was forced to stop using the Palm Pilot brand in a trademark dispute with the Pilot Pen Co.
After founders Dubinsky, Hawkins, and Colligan left in a dispute over strategy, 3Com spun Palm into two companies, PalmOne, which made PDA hardware, and PalmSource, which owned the operating system. The goal was to license Palm software to third parties, but the only really significant licensee it signed was Handspring, the company started by Dubinsky, et. al. PalmOne (which later renamed itself Palm) struggled with constant management turmoil, while PalmSource struggled, mostly without luck, to modernize Palm’s increasingly creaky operating system.
Meanwhile, the crew at Handspring managed to turn the Palm into the first real smartphone, the Treo. Eventually, in a bity of financial judo, Handspring merged with Palm and the company regains the right to develop its own OS, which by then had been sold to Access, a japanese software company.
Alas, it was really too late. Money was as short as ever and drastic action was needed to save the Palm OS from hopeless obsolence (by this point, Palm was becoming largely an OEM of Windows Mobile phones.) In 2008, Palm got a $100 million infusion from Roger McNamee’s Silver Lake Partners and former Apple hardware guru Jon Rubenstein came aboard, eventually as CEO. The new team produced webOS and got it into the Palm Pre, but the hardware never won the accolades the software earned. It was a modest success at best and the money drain continued.
The HP acquisition was supposed to change Palm’s fortunes for good, but of course we know how that turned out. But given the soap opera history, the ending should hardly be a surprise.
Today HP made a fascinating decision. One that is disruptive, exciting, and could lead to valuable innovation. HP has decided to release webOS to the open source community. This decision could have significant impact on the mobile landscape and may end up being one of the most disruptive moves yet.
A quote from the release:
“HP plans to continue to be active in the development and support of webOS. By combining the innovative webOS platform with the development power of the open source community, there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices.”
The move by HP to put webOS into Open Source is a brilliant one. Although it was a disaster for them and forced them to write off the $3 billion they invested in it, it is now a gift from them to consumers and could have a drastic impact on the future of mobile devices. Next to Apple’s iOS, webOS is arguably the best non-Apple mobile OS on the market. And it is easy to develop for since software developers can use mainstream Web tools to create webOS applications. Also as a part of the release to open source HP will also contribute ENYO, the application framework for webOS.
Meg Whitman stated in a quote from the press release:
“webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” said Meg Whitman, HP president and chief executive officer. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.”
Unlike Google’s Android or Windows 8 for tablets, it will come with no strings attached. As a rich Open Source OS, webOS could finally reach its full potential. It would not surprise me to see many of the big Android backers in tablets move quickly to webOS and some may even use it for some innovative smart phones as well.
We believe Android could be the biggest loser from this move by HP. Google has constantly taken criticism from the OEMs due to their lack of unity in releases and overall short roadmap. We have heard countless times how many vendors desire a better option than Android. To many of them Windows Phone provided an opportunity but now this void may be filled by webOS.
HP said they plan to continue to invest in the webOS open source project and will have dedicated team members involved with the open source community.
The move of webOS to Open Source is great news for vendors, developers and consumers and could quickly become one of the better options for OEMs who want more control of their designs and mobile OS user interface in order to help them differentiate themselves from competitors.
Related: Dear Industry – Dare to Differntiate
I applaud this move and although it is bold I believe it has the potential to benefit this industry greatly. I am extremely excited to see how the open source community, developers, and OEMs embrace this opportunity. This is perhaps one of the most exciting pieces of news of 2011.
Check out this small forum thread on HP’s website, asking them to release webOS to open source.
In the end, Hewlett-Packard could neither use webOS to gain a foothold in the smartphone and tablet market, nor could it sell the operating system it acquired as part of the $1.2 billion purchase of Palm last year. So it is giving it away, releasing the code and the application framework under an open source license. The sad truth is that we are unlikely to ever again see webOS in a commercially viable smartphone or tablet.
For webOS to have a real life after HP, some hardware maker would have had to snap it up. But the likeliest suspects, Samsung and HTC, already have their hands full with Android and Windows Phone, and perhaps Windows 8 too. Amazon was a rumored buyer, but it has little interest in taking on a major OS development project; it’s doing just fine with an old version of Android.
The problem is that successful mobile software has to be co-developed with the hardware it runs on. Of the current mobile players, the one pure software company, Google, is getting into hardware with the purchase of Motorola Mobility. And it continues to work intimately with its leading hardware partners on design. Microsoft gives its Windows Phone hardware partners very limited freedom in their design choices. Apple, of course, is the maestro of integrated mobile hardware and software, and it was in an attempt to emulate Apple’s success that HP bought Palm in the first place.
There’s a good reason for this. The mobile user experience depends to a huge degree on how smoothly the hardware and software work together. A huge part of Apple’s success is based on the fact that it and third-party iOS developers know every detail of the very limited variety of devices they write for. In that environment, the hardware and software become one, and this makes for happy users.
Attempts to develop mobile operating systems in isolation have a sorry history. Intel and various partners tried with Moblin, MeeGo, and Tizen and left us with nothing but a pile of odd names. The LiMo Foundation had no greater success with its attempt to create a mobile Linux.
I’m sure open source webOS will attract a bunch of enthusiastic developers, who will succeed in getting it to run on commodity hardware. But if there were a real chance of getting a product out of this, someone would have shown interest in buying webOS for what I am sure was a bargain-basement price. Instead, they saw a pit full of Pres and TouchPads and 3 billion of HP shareholders’ dollars.
The sad end of webOS is a terrible shame. It was an extremely promising operating system that never really got a chance, hobbled as it was first by the financial weakness of Palm and then by the incompetence and lack of staying power of HP. It deserved much better.
MobileBeat has an interesting article this morning reporting that Amazon is apparently in talks to buy webOS from HP.
Although this deal could make a fair bit of sense I don’t see the immediate need for Amazon. If they were to purchase webOS it would obviously be fully own the OS layer for their hardware and as I’ve speculated their hardware partners. Amazon however has customized Android to a degree that is basically their own custom operating system. So what they would get in webOS they basically already have with their fork of Android. Android has a thriving developer community already that can easily tap into the Amazon tablet where webOS is still attempting to gain traction with developers.
It is interesting though, as MobileBeat is reporting, that Jon Rubenstein is on Amazon’s board. If HP truly was considering selling of the webOS technology Jon would know and be in a position to find it a good home, in which Amazon would be a good home.
If HP is wanting to sell of webOS I agree with James Kendrick at ZDNET that HTC should buy it. So if this rumor is true, I hope it is not a back room deal but one that HP offers to others in the market who could also benefit greatly from webOS.
If Amazon were to acquire webOS then it would solidify in my mind that they intend to license or give away their OS layers so other hardware manufacturers can make hardware build around Amazon’s services.
A couple of years ago, when various handset makers were looking for a mobile OS to back for their devices, they were given a proposition from Google that was hard to refuse. Google would provide an open source version of Android and with it allow the vendors to customize and add their own features so that they could differentiate their products from other Android licensees.
At first this worked well and Google got dozens of device makers to hop on the Android bandwagon. And for the most part, Android took off, especially in smart phones. But over time, many Android licensees found Google difficult to work with because of their design approach to Android, which was always a moving target. And while Google called it an open mobile OS, as time went on, it became much more controlled by Google and licensees have had less room to do things to help differentiate their devices. Even worse, they have found it more challenging to control their own destiny when it comes to many key services tied around their own offerings.
Now that Google has bought Motorola, many Android licensees believe Google will be exercise tighter control over Android and with Motorola develop a more vertically integrated approach to the market. This is similar to what Apple does through owning the hardware, software and services; integrating them tightly together to provide customers a seamless user experience. While Google has said that they will continue to develop Android as an open source product and work with licensees equally, none of the licensees I have talked to actually believe this. At the very least, they expect Motorola to get early code. Many believe tighter integration between Android and Motorola hardware is inevitable and doubt they will get a similar deal in any way. The various lawsuits against Android as well as the potential of having to pay extra royalties to Oracle and Microsoft should they win their legal cases against Android does not make them happy either.
Not long after the news that Google would buy Motorola, and that HP was going to ditch webOS, Microsoft started courting Android and webOS developers even harder. In fact Microsoft is offering free Windows phones to webOS developers and more hand holding if they jump ship and start developing for Windows Mobile 7and 8.
It is also not clear where webOS is going. We don’t know who its owner will be yet. Does it stay with HP or go with the spinoff? We also don’t know if it will ever be an open OS that licensees of the future can freely customize for their own markets and customers. One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that in developed markets, complete ecosystems of hardware, software and services define the user experience. But that may not be the case in emerging markets.
In emerging markets, the need to have a truly open source mobile OS is very important since they need to be able to customize their offerings around a specific language and localized services. This is especially true for emerging market carriers. The fact that mature markets demand hundreds of thousands of mobile apps does not necessarily translate to the actual needs of smart phone users in emerging markets. There they need the dozens or hundreds of apps that are customized for their regions, customs and traditions.
Everyone knows Apple’s approach to their OS is proprietary. Even though Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 OS is freely licensable, it is fully controlled by Microsoft. And now that Google has bought Motorola, Android is looking more and more like it could become more tightly controlled as part of a vertically integrated offering. Unless HP quickly states that webOS will not only be licensable but also truly open (which I don’t think they will ever do), then I believe that there is serious room for a completely new mobile OS to emerge and especially give handset vendors targeting emerging markets an OS of their own to work with.
We are already hearing that even the big handset vendors who are backing Android are seriously looking for an alternative OS to back to hedge their bets and to help them go after emerging markets where giant app stores are less important for success. This leads me to believe that there is not only room for another mobile OS but a need for one that is truly open that will never be encumbered by big company agendas that drive the designs of their mobile OS.
Joshua Topolsky at This IsMyNext has details on an all-hands meeting at which Stephen DeWitt, head of HP’s webOS business unit, declared that “we are not walking away from webOS” and promised an outline for the future within a couple of weeks.
In an earlier post, I outlined some of the difficulties that any webOS licensing strategy would face. By DeWitt inadvertently points out one I overlooked: How on earth is HP going to hang on to any good talent in a market where Apple, Google, Microsoft, and a flock of handset makers are all competing fiercely? The webOS unit is a defunct operation within a division–HP’s Personal Systems Group–whose own future is highly uncertain. A first-rate engineer can sit around waiting to see how things turn out–or can have half a dozen job offers nearly immediately.
Hewlett-Packard’s announcement today that it was discounting all webOS products, including the TouchPad tablet and Pre phones, set off a flurry of speculation that the elegant ex-Palm mobile operating system might find a third life through licensing to hardware manufacturers.
But the fact is that webOS is now stone, cold dead with no hope of revival. The issue has nothing to do with the quality of the software and everything to do with the state of the smartphone and tablet markets.
Just a couple of weeks ago, my colleague Ben Bajarin suggested that webOS could still mount a real challenge to Android if HP licensed it. But that assumed that HP would be standing behind the OS and continuing to court developers.
The biggest problem webOS faced from its Palm days through its 16 months of HP ownership was lack of support from third-party development. Even if someone, and I can’t quite imagine who, were announce tomorrow that they were taking over webOS, it would take months to close the deal and get products back into production. The few remaining webOS developers aren’t going to wait. And the chances of restarting a development effort in the face of the Apple and Google juggernauts are nil.
I don’t know what went wrong with HP’s webOS effort. (Disclosure: I did a bit of consulting on mobile strategy with the company around the time of the Palm acquisition.) But I suspect the failure has a lot to do with HP’s never-ending boardroom dramas.
HP bought Palm in April, 2010. In early August, Mark Hurd was forced out as CEO of the company because of an “inappropriate relationship” with a contractor. In September, HP hired formed SAP CEO Leo Apotheker to run the company. And in February, HP announced the TouchPad and its plans for webOS products at a splashy event in San Francisco.
At the time, HP Personal Systems Group executives, including Executive Vice president Todd Bradley, made it clear that the real goal of the Palm acquisition was to give HP control over its own destiny. Owning on operating system that would provide HP with Apple-like control over both hardware and software. They even announced a version of webOS for PCs, though they never provided more than the vaguest of details. But they said, they knew it would be a long fight, years not months, and they were ready for it.
At first Apotheker, whose background is all in enterprise software, seemed to be fully behind the plan, but I suspect his heart was never really in it–or any other parts of the Personal Systems Group that HP is now looking to sell or spin out. By the time the TouchPad actually launched the TouchPad in July, the company seemed to have lost most of its enthusiasm for the product. It had failed to do the one thing that might have given it a shot at success, line up a rich array of apps, perhaps because the company wouldn’t provide the funding needed to buy developer support. Given the lack of conviction, the fact that it lasted less than two months on the market is shocking but not surprising.
I don’t know that HP could really have challenged Apple–someone recently called the company “the place good products go to die.” But it was an exciting idea and for HP, webOS products offered it a chance to break out of the no-margin commodity PC game. But sadly, HP’s senior management never gave the idea a chance.
So why aren’t non-iPad tablets selling as well as the iPad? I read a very interesting article Wednesday from James Kendrick at ZDNet. His contention is that one of the biggest issues is competing with Apple’s “consistent marketing experience”. I agree that’s a big issue, but I think there’s an even more basic core issue here and it starts with consumer risk, the considered purchase process, the influencers and the product experience.
Tablets are a Risky and “Considered” Consumer Purchase
Consumers, regardless of demographics and psychographics, share some common behaviors. When they are posed with a risky, considered purchase, they are looking for reasons to reject products and not look past their warts. And tablets are a risky, considered purchase. For a time, tablets started at $499, well above the starting prices of a notebook, desktop, or smartphone. Tablets don’t run programs or content like the PC that consumers are familiar with. And they are very fragile when compared to other devices.
Consumers Research to Mitigate Risk
As I said above, when posed with an expensive, risky purchase, it is “considered”, meaning they will research it or find a brand which “buffers” the risk. By researching it, I don’t mean doing a master’s thesis. I mean doing a few web searches, going to a recommended tech site, asking a few “geek” friends and tossing a few questions out on Twitter or Facebook. What consumers heard back were some positive and some negative things about non-iPads. Even more importantly though, is that very few if any negatives ever came back from their iPad research. Worst thing you might hear back about the iPad is that it doesn’t run Flash, it doesn’t have SD memory upgrade, and it’s expensive.
So was it some conspiracy that the negative things were being said or were they just the facts of what actually shipped at launch? The fact is, the clear majority of non-iPad tablets at their launch suffered from many issues as it related to the iPad, which established the bar of a successful tablet.
Tablets Lacked Convenient, Paid Content at Launch
Many media tablets launched without a whole lot of media:
- Lack of video services like Netflix, Hulu, movie rental, or movie purchase capabilities
- Lack of music services like Pandora, Spotify, or music purchase capabilities
- Lack of book services like Kindle or BN Reader
This issue is being slowly solved, but the damage had been done at launch.
Tablets Lacked Stability and Responsiveness at Launch
Many tablets launched with multiple application crashes, hangs and were intermittently unresponsive. When apps would become unresponsive, the users would get a message asking them what they want to do, similar to the way Windows alerts the user. The iPad 2 launch experience was responsive and stable. Yes, the iPad 2 does still experience some app crashes, but it’s less frequent and when it does, it just closes the app.
This issue has been solved for all non-iPad tablets with OS updates, but again, the damage was done at launch.
Tablets Lacked Premier Applications at Launch
I don’t believe consumers are fanatical about the 100’s of thousands of apps that should be on a tablet. I do believe that they want to have the most popular applications that they care about, though. Most non-iPad tablets launched without premier apps, like premier news, sports, and social media apps. One tablet even shipped without a built-in email and calendar client and research shows that email is the #1 tablet application. Android tablets shipped at launch without a Twitter app.
Only Android 3.2 tablets have addressed this issue so far, but again, the perceptual damage was done.
Tablets Shipped at Launch with Hardware Challenges
Not only were there software issues at launch, but hardware as well. Tablets shipped with inoperable SD card slots and USB ports that didn’t work properly. Even competing with the physical iPad 2 design was a challenge. Some tablets were nearly twice as thick as the iPad, used plastic design versus aluminum, and one tablet even shipped with a case that blocked major ports like power, USB and HDMI.
Some of these issues have been addressed, but the damage was done.
Should Everyone Else Just Quit?
With all of these issues at launch and challenging sales so far, should everyone except Apple just quit and concede to Apple? Absolutely not! This is the first inning in a nine inning game, and the game hasn’t been lost. In short order, every tablet will be thin and light enough and power efficient enough until it’s inconsequential. Most apps will move to web apps virtually eliminating the app barrier, and everyone will have the right paid content. Apple obviously won’t stand still and I agree with Ben Bajarin when he says, “success will only come to those who want to compete with the iPad by thinking fresh and taking bold and innovative risks.” I have had the honor to work for companies who slayed goliath and I have been slayed myself, so I have seen both sides. It takes courage and conviction and I believe the tech industry can and will do that.
Pat Moorhead is Corporate Vice President and Corporate Marketing Fellow and a Member of the Office of Strategy at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.
As I have described in previous posts on my AMD blog, part of my job entails forecasting future usage models for consumers and businesses. One of the various techniques I use is living with today’s technology and then extrapolating forward. I look at all sorts of hardware and software, and lately I’ve been looking at a lot of mobility devices, specifically tablets. One of the latest products I checked out was the HP TouchPad tablet. I lived with the HP TouchPad for the last 10 days and I wanted to share with you my thoughts. I won’t be extrapolating out five years, but I am intrigued about many aspects of the HP TouchPad.
HP TouchPad Advantages
· Setup: I have an HP Veer phone that I had previously setup and the HP TouchPad automatically imported ALL of my accounts. That included Exchange, Box, Dropbox, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Skype, Yahoo, and even MobileMe. I entered their passwords, and I was connected to everything. This is superior to Android in that it connects non-Google accounts and superior to iOS in that it automatically connects non-Apple accounts. THIS is the way every tablet should be.
· Real Multitasking: This has been an advantage with Palm products since the inception of the Pre with “cards”. When I mean real multitasking, I mean a way to see what is actually running simultaneously and the ability to quickly switch and/or kill apps and functions. The only thing even close is the BlackBerry PlayBook.
· Synergy: Managing all of the different best-in-breed services is typically very difficult with a tech device. Synergy gathers all of those services and contacts in one place to present an integrated view of an app or a contact. My contact in the HP TouchPad, for example, has 10 linked profiles, consistent with my services. One contact, not ten. Here are some specifics on accounts supported by HP Synergy.
· Notifications: There are two types of notifications, lock-screen and in the activity center in the upper right hand corner of the screen. These are superior to the iOS 4.x notifications in every way and really pull on Palm’s experience and legacy.
· Exhibition Mode: This mode adds utility to the HP TouchPad when it’s charging and/or sleeping. Instead of seeing a blank screen or some silly screensaver, you see a clock, your calendar, key photos and even a very-well designed Facebook page.
· TouchStone Inductive Charging: This is a feature I am surprised others haven’t tried to replicate because it’s just so awesome. The inductive charging feature allowed me to charge my HP TouchPad by setting it on the charger, without having to plug anything in. On other tablets, I continually plug in the unit incorrectly (iPad) or it’s hard to plug in (HTC Flyer).
· Printing: I have personally used over 15 tablets with all the add-ons for printing and the TouchPad was the first one that “just worked”. I have yet to print correctly or easily from any iOS 4.X or Honeycomb device.
· Connecting to Corporate IT: This was the easiest tablets I have connected to my corporate Exchange and wireless LAN. Literally, all I needed was to enter my email address and password and I was connected to Exchange. Its ActiveSync support is superior in every way. On the corporate LAN, all I needed was to email my security token to myself, import it, log-in, and I was on the corporate wireless LAN. The HP TouchPad was the first browser to actually work correctly with our web front-end for SAP.
What I’d Like to See in Future HP TouchPads or Software Releases
· More Apps: Some of my favorite apps are missing that I literally cannot be without. I need apps like EverNote, SugarSync, Kindle (coming), Google Plus, and HootSuite.
· More Pep: Even though the HP TouchPad has some of the highest-specification components like a dual core 1.2 GHz CPU, it didn’t feel like it. It lagged in many areas compared to the iPad 2 and even the BlackBerry PlayBook.
· Browser File Access: Without a specific app, I’d like to be able to upload files through the browser. For example, even if I didn’t have a Google Plus app, I’d like to upload photos via the browser. This requires file system access to do. The BlackBerry PlayBook did this very well and in many ways, compensated for the lack of apps.
· Video Services: There is a placeholder app for the HP MovieStore, but I’d also like to see Netflix and Hulu. Hulu runs in the browser, but it’s also very laggy. If Hulu ran more quickly in the browser, I wouldn’t need an app.
· Video Out: I like to display videos and photos on my HDTV. I cannot do this with the TouchPad, but I can with the iPad, PlayBook, and virtually every Android Honeycomb tablet.
· Video Chat: I tried to use the Skype-based video conferencing but I got no video and crackly audio. The BlackBerry PlayBook and the iPad 2 do video conferencing near flawlessly.
· Synced Bookmarks: I spend, like many, a lot of time on the web, and not just on a tablet. I access the web from multiple phones, tablets, and PCs. I’d like, at a minimum, an Xmarks app.
· Mouse: The HP Wireless Keyboard is great, but only solves half the produ
ctivity interface challenge. Reaching across the keyboard or doing “fine-grain” editing is just sub-optimal without a mouse. Android Honeycomb has the best mouse support today, closely followed by the PlayBook.
There is a lot to love about the HP TouchPad and it offers many things that make it stand out amongst the iPad, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Android tablets. Unfortunately, one of those attributes is a low number of applications and some lagginess in certain usage models. HP is a company I have had the fortunate honor to work for (Compaq) and work with for almost 20 years and when they commit to do something, they do it. I expect the issues to be cleared up and when they are, I believe more people will be focusing on its great attributes.
Feel free to give me a piece of your mind. Comments section is below.
I’ve been pondering the question of Android’s growth, sustainabilty and market share for some time now. For several years now as we have been discussing strategy and market trends with our clients, Android always seems to enter the discussion in some way.
Many of the companies we consult with work closely with Google and implement Android on a number of their hardware platforms. Suffice it to say that being tuned into the intimate discussions between Google and their Android customers is VERY interesting. The bottom line is we know for a fact vendors are extremely interested in supporting multiple platforms and many of them do not want to bet their future on Android.
This reality is actually what led Intel to want to create and develop MeeGo. Intel heard the same complaints from hardware vendors who deeply desired an alternate to Android but had no viable option in the market place.
Android’s momentum, particularly with develepers, is the strongest reason for vendors to continue selling Android devices. Contrary to popular belief, mainstream consumers are not walking into stores asking for Android devices. Instead they are shopping for a smart phone and are seeking the best option to fit their life based on a few set criteria in their buying process.
Using this knowledge the question of HP licensing WebOS becomes quite an interesting one. If vendors are genuinely interested in supporting and developing out more platforms than just Google, then HP has a huge opportunity in front of them.
As I pointed out in my TouchPad review WebOS is solid, stable and elegant. All that is missing from making the OS great is a plethora of the key and important core applications. HP is going to continue to drive software development and they are buidling their develeper relations team out as we speak.
If HP was to pull in one or two major vendors like HTC, Samsung or Motorola, my guess is developers would come in droves. This would mean the app shortage currently facing WebOS could turn very quickly. Especially given how easy it is to develop for WebOS.
I’ve stated this in a number of articles where I was quoted but I believe that if HP was to have success licensing WebOS it would hurt Android and Microsoft more than Apple.
Android is vulnerable because it is not a sticky solution. Most of Google’s apps are free, their services are free and accessible on other operating systems as well. Consumers who buy Android devices don’t have much other than the cost of the hardware sunk into the ecosystem. Google is a services company and they want their services on as many devices as possible, including non-Android devices. So even if as a consumer you are vested in Google’s services, you will be able to access these services(like Gmail) from any number of non-Android devices as well. For these reasons Android is not sticky.
Are Mobile Platforms Sticky
Microsoft has a better chance at creating a sticky platform but vendors like HP, Samsung and Moto simply won’t support Android, WebOS and Windows Phone. If HP can swing major commitments from any of those players my guess is Microsoft’s chances of getting more hardware wins for Windows Phone becomes a challenge.
I know i’m going way out on a limb with this statement however I would not be shocked if in three years Android was not in the top three of mobile OS market share. Entirely assuming HP does license WebOS(and they do it right) AND Microsoft delivers with Windows Phone 8 and beyond.
Those may be big assumptions but as I said the lack of stickiness with Android may be its Achilles heel.
I have been a WebOS fan since it was first released. Actually I have been a Palm fan in general since the first Palm Pilot. So to say that i’d love to see HP succeed with WebOS would be a mild understatement. The Palm Pre devices have evolved and although none have been a massive market success, the Palm team (now part of HP) has learned some key things; they have transferred that knowledge to the hottest part of the tech sector, which is tablets.
I will let the gadget reviewers tackle the speeds and feeds along with all the technical elements of the TouchPad with their reviews. I intend to focus this review more on my opinion of the touchpad, my experience with it, and the things that set it apart.
My overall Opinion
The TouchPad is an extremely good first tablet from HP. WebOS runs marvelously well on a larger screen. I’m not going to go so far as saying it runs even better than on a phone but lets just say that WebOS likes large screens.
The device itself is a bit bulky and heavier than my primary tablet, which is in iPad 2, but still very usable and very portable. The size and weight of the device is comparable to the Motorola XOOM.
Everything about WebOS was clean on the tablet. Gestures, the UI, the speed of the OS; all was fantastic. The only thing glaringly missing was a plethora of apps in the HP App Catalog. I am convinced that if HP had anywhere near the size of an App store catalog as Apple, the TouchPad would make a worthy competitor.
That however is being worked. We are assured from HP that they are in the for the long haul and are investing heavily into their developer programs.
I personally like this tablet quite a bit, more than any Android tablet i’ve used thus far. The software is largely the reason as I like the UI of WebOS and prefer it to Android – just my opinion mind you. The only thing holding the TouchPad back in competing with Android tablets in particular is the apps.
There are however three key things that set the TouchPad apart and are worth pointing out..
I firmly believe that at this point in time WebOS does the best job multi-tasking of any tablet i’ve used to date. WebOS accomplishes this with their “Card View” metaphor where you can see all the apps you have open as slightly smaller windows. With a quick finger swipe gesture “up” from the bottom of the TouchPad you quickly enter the card view.
You can also stack apps on top of each other to create space for multiple card view working environments. Ultimately this lets you have more apps open at one time, letting you jump back and forth between a larger selection of applications.
Multi-tasking is a key part of the tablet and touch computing experience because it allows you to quickly move in and out of apps to accomplish whatever it is you seek to accomplish. An example would be surfing the web, checking a quick e-mail then back to surfing the web again.
Dock aware Exhibition Mode
This is one of the areas I think has the most potential for WebOS. Because the TouchPad charges by simply sitting in the dock, with no need to plug in, HP has designed a way to make each dock location aware.
This means you could set up multiple TouchPad docks, one near your bed, one in the living room, and one in the kitchen. Then you can set your TouchPad to show a different exhibition mode depending on which dock the TouchPad is sitting on. So when my TouchPad is docked next to my bed it would display a clock and the when sitting in the dock in the living room it would display a photo slideshow.
What’s more is that HP has put into their software development tools the ability for developers to creatve new apps that take advantage of the location aware docks and exhibition mode. So we can expect new apps that take advantage of the location aware dock and exhibition mode to show up in the HP App catalog shortly. I am looking forward to a recipe mode for when the TouchPad is docked in the my kitchen.
Touch to Share
The last real differentiator I want to focus on is touch to share. This is a concept I think is quite interesting.
The basic idea is that if you are viewing something on one WebOS device, like the TouchPad, and you want to transfer what you were viewing to another WebOS device, like a Pre. All you do is touch one to the other and what was on the screen on one device shows up on the other.
The concept is simple but powerul. When you are managing or moving from device to devic,e frequently this solution becomes quite useful. At launch Touch to Share will support transfering a web page from one WebOS device to another.
In the future however you can imagine using this for music, movies, photos, documents and more.
Because your WebOS devices are paired together, you can also use the touch to share technology to recieve and answer phone calls and text messages directly on the TouchPad. This is accomplished by using the cell connection on your Pre or any other WebOS based device.
As you can see HP is not only deeply commited to developing great hardware like the Pre and the TouchPad, but also to further developing the WebOS ecosystem.
What I praise the most is HP’s vision to create experiences where your HP devices work better together, touch to share being a great example.
The TouchPad represents a premium experience as a tablet. A lack of apps are the only things currently holding the TouchPad back.
Time will tell how long it takes for HP to get a critical mass of quality applications in their catalog. There are at launch at least enough name brand apps to keep the early buying base satisfied. But Web OS is a solid mobile OS and HP is tailoring it to meet the need of a broad range of customers. I consider it a very comptetive product and one that has serious market potential.