News Analysis: With the right partners or acquisitions, HP could turn a WebOS tablet into a compelling device customizable for any unified communications partner that comes along.
From the moment I first heard about Hewlett-Packard's acquisition of Palm,
I've been pondering whether WebOS could play a key role in finally helping the
hardware company define a cohesive unified communications strategy beyond its
current approach of "provide hardware and partner." Eventually, I
came to the conclusion that if HP makes the right additional acquisitions down
the road, it won't need to.
HP is well-positioned to sell the pipes over which UC travels and it also has
its Halo telepresence gear, but neither networking nor telepresence by
themselves are UC. UC is all about software, open standards and interoperability-and
while HP has been embracing the latter two fully and publicly since its
acquisition of 3Com was completed, HP has never truly been a software company.
Instead, it is a hardware company that nearly encompasses enough to be the
engine for UC, while not actually being a UC company itself. Check out this
Communications and Collaboration with HP and Microsoft. (PDF) HP provides
the servers, storage, endpoints, telepresence equipment, networking and
services. Microsoft brings home the software. Or perhaps Avaya, Aastra, or
Mitel will. To deliver those hardware endpoints still missing from its
stable-like desk phones, WiFi phones and lower to midrange video conferencing
equipment-HP recently formed a partnership
The Palm acquisition was about Palm's newest software (and patents, but that
is another story), not any of Palm's hardware, however. HP has already shown a
willingness to jettison in-progress plans for a WebOS future, as rumors abound
that the Windows 7-based Slate tablet project was shuttered in favor of a WebOS
tablet soon to come. And I think HP might be able to take that base tablet in a
bunch of different directions.
If what I saw on the Expo floor at Interop in April is any indication, the
desk phone of the future looks a lot like a tablet, complete with a relatively
large multitouch screen, ARM processor and
Bluetooth handset. Alcatel-Lucent's OmniTouch 8082 My IC Phone may be billed as
an executive-class SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) phone, but it's really a
runs applications without need for a specialized back-end server.
Alcatel-Lucent even launched a new developer community called the AAPP Factory to encourage
ISVs to code for the device. Unfortunately, I expect Alcatel-Lucent will have trouble
attracting the critical mass of developers needed to create a thriving app
ecosystem around its phone.
On the other hand, what if HP were to try something similar with WebOS and
its application ecosystem, with the added appeal to developers that their
applications would be usable on a variety of devices rather than a single
phone? The device may start its life cycle as tablet, but say HP were to
partner with Polycom for an SIP stack and some design features, and perhaps
with a rich media processing company like Global IP Solutions for excellent
audio and video processing, it could have a pretty rich telephony and video
solution that is also an excellent application platform. It could then turn
around and sell that device to its software partners, customizing the operating
system to prioritize the applications that matter to them for the particular product
I certainly don't think HP could make that happen on its own, which is why I
suspect we'll see the company use more of its cash reserves along these lines
within the next year. Polycom definitely seems like an interesting fit, given it
the market for a buyer. Polycom's video products would round out HP's video
conferencing portfolio to better compete with Cisco Systems following its Tandberg
acquisition, and Polycom also has some battle-tested SpectraLink voice-over-WiFi
technology that could be vital in delivering FMC
(fixed mobile convergence) offerings to their software partners.
With a new array of smarter, customizable endpoints and making the notion of
interoperability core to its value proposition, HP could then stay on the same
course-delivering the hardware to power UC, while leaving the bulk of the
software work to others.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at email@example.com.