It was probably fitting that I was attending Interop (the business IT technology conference) in Las Vegas yesterday when Hewlett-Packard announced it acquired struggling device and software firm Palm for $1.2 billion. After spending some time listening to enterprise attendees at Interop voice their confusion over which mobile operating system makes the most sense for corporate users, I am optimistic about this deal.
As a huge supplier to the enterprise market, HP now has the opportunity to leverage its expertise and distinguish Palm's devices and (more importantly) Palm's webOS from the competition. Palm's webOS has been hailed by developers as an easy development platform because it has a lot of similarities to Linux. Nevertheless, developers have not flocked to the platform primarily because Palm has a small portfolio of smartphones and limited visibility among U.S. operators. There are only about 2,000 mobile apps that support webOS today, compared with the hundreds of thousands of apps written specifically for the iPhone OS.
But in a research note, IDC analysts say that because of its similarities to Linux, PC developers will find it easy to transition to mobile application development using webOS. And if HP can capitalize on that, it could drum up more support for the webOS platform from the developer community.
While IDC analysts believe HP will use webOS to support its consumer business and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 to target enterprise users, I'm not convinced HP will follow that scenario. Clearly there is a tremendous opportunity for a mobile OS platform that can cater to the enterprise with applications that enhance productivity and have an added layer of security. Even though Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 holds a lot of promise, Microsoft has made so many missteps in the mobile industry that I wonder if the company will succeed this time.
But Microsoft isn't the only firm that should be concerned about this acquisition. Many observers are speculating that Nokia's Symbian operating system, which is still the dominant global OS, stands to lose as well. Just last week Nokia announced that it would delay the release of its Symbian^3 operating system to the third quarter because of quality control issues--prompting more doubt about the operating system's viability in the wake of increased competition.
With HP's acquisition of Palm bringing new hope to the webOS platform, the mobile OS space continues to evolve and mature. Although the number of platforms doesn't appear to be shrinking yet, I wonder which players will still be thriving at this time next year. --Sue