What HP did next

The always awesome Terence Eden writes about HP’s smartphone conundrum; he makes some excellent points and I recommend you go and read it.

Read it now. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Ok, welcome back.

There are a couple of things I’d like to add:

On WebOS

It’s worth bearing in mind that much of the “hard work” surrounding building a mobile ecosystem has already been done with WebOS. There’s an innovative platform. There’s all the things developers need: SDKs, routes to market and monetisation. All it needs is the hardware and a concerted effort to get operators and brands back on board, and to tie up content deals (which could easily be handled in a partnership with someone like Amazon).

In fact, I’d argue that when HP asked Amazon to stump up the money to buy the platform, Amazon’s response would have been “make it open and we’ll contribute” – the age for buying platforms is long gone. That’s after Amazon finished laughing at the price tag, of course.

On Windows 8

One point that Terence does not make entirely explicit is control of destiny. A fundamental problem with the traditional Windows model was that all of the manufacturers lined up to be, as Terence puts it, a “beige-box PC shifter”. He points to PureView as an example of not being able to innovate on hardware, but it’s worse than that: if you don’t control the operating system, your entire strategy is out of your hands:

  • product specifications are dictated almost completely by Microsoft – either explicitly in the case of handset hardware, or implicitly in the case of Windows where minimum hardware requirements are dictated by the OS.
  • product cycles are dictated by Microsoft – you release new hardware when Microsoft releases their next new platform. Just look at the recent Nokia phone announcements (“great phone, but we can’t tell you pricing or when it’ll be on sale”) for how damaging it can be to lose control of this.
  • innovation in user experience belongs to Microsoft – you can’t add your own interface, beyond the limits of drivers and crapware that Microsoft lets you bundle. How your customers interact with your hardware is controlled and dictated by a third party.

The wonderful thing about the post-PC world is that Apple demonstrated to the PC box shifters that all of these restrictions can be discarded, and when they are discarded, something amazing happens.

On Firefox OS

Should HP adopt Firefox OS (B2G)? There’s a strong argument that they should. But consider this tweet from ex-WebOS developer relations guru and current Mozilla developer supremo Lisa Brewster:

Sure, BB10 will compete with Firefox OS. But they’re building a great mobile web platform, which helps everyone win. /cc @blackberrydev

It would be a great idea for HP to contribute to Firefox OS and to ship phones running it. It would also be awesome if HP continued with WebOS, because just as with BB10 versus B2G, competition and innovation will result, and that’s good for everyone.

Either way, the open web would win. I’d love to see HP WebOS devices that are sideways-compatible with Firefox OS apps. I’d love to see HP create a Firefox OS Marketplace. That would be awesome.

On Android

I agree with Terence: nobody wants to join the race to the bottom in pricing. And shipping Android devices would put them in a similar position to shipping Windows devices. They won’t get more than a notional control over product release cycles or user experience. The only way to control Android is to fork it, like Amazon did. And if you’re going to do that, you may as well be investing in your own platform.

Homebrew

I doubt HP would jump on board with Tizen: control is too firmly in the hands of Intel and Samsung. I’d expect HP to engage at around the same time as LG does – i.e. never.

And HP would be mad to create their own proprietary OS. They’d be rebuilding Palm/WebOS again, from scratch, three years too late.

The other options

There are a few other options that are worth thinking about.

  • Why doesn’t HP buy RIM? HP’s market cap is $33.87B, RIM is at $3.69B; it’s an acquisition that would make more sense than, say, buying Autonomy. Someone that understands the numbers can work out the financial details. I doubt this will happen though, after the WebOS debacle. To fail at one mobile platform may be regarded as a misfortune. To fail at both would look like carelessness.
  • Why doesn’t HP buy Nokia? It would give them an enviable war chest of patents when combined with Palm. They could use the acquisition to push a Windows Phone strategy, or even resurrect Meego, and the critically-aclaimed N9.
  • HP could go straight for the root of Meego, and acquire Jolla. All of the N9 goodness and none of the … less optimal bits of Nokia.
  • While we’re talking crazy acquisitions, LG could sure use some help right now on the mobile side of things. They don’t own a platform but they know how to do hardware. In fact, I had them tipped to buy (or ship) WebOS if anyone did. But imagine the result of a merger of HP and LG. Synergies! Cost savings! HP Chocolate Candybar Printers!

One thing is clear: HP have to act, and can’t afford to wait.

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