Hewlett-Packard isn't exactly shying down from a fight.
In a March 14 press conference, freshly minted CEO Leo Apotheker has made it clear he intends to take the manufacturer in some new and radical directions, ones that will bring his company in direct and aggressive competition with not only its longtime rivals, but also a few partners.
Microsoft and the webOS Question
In mid-2010, HP completed its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm, whose new breed of smartphones-including its flagship Palm Pre-had attracted some critical praise but comparatively little consumer and developer interest. As part of that deal, HP now had control of Palm's webOS mobile-operating system.
Almost immediately, analysts and pundits began speculating that HP would port webOS onto both smartphones and tablets. In a Feb. 9 announcement, however, the company suggested it would take the platform one step further, installing it on laptops and desktops in addition to mobile devices.
"The webOS is an unbelievably attractive piece of technology in that it can interconnect seamlessly a number of various devices," Apotheker said in response to eWEEK's question at the March 14 press conference. "It is simply an outstanding Web operating system."
HP eventually hopes to sell 100 million webOS-enabled devices per year. "You will see us put our webOS on our Windows PCs," Apotheker added. "We see this as a massive, very global platform."
But Microsoft could take a dim view of another operating system trying to carve out some market share. Windows currently occupies some 89.95 percent of the operating-system market, according to analytics firm Net Applications, and Windows 7 continues to generate substantial amounts of revenue for the company.
Exactly how Microsoft will react to a new entity in its space remains to be seen, but HP executives are already trying to paint the relationship as the furthest thing from a competition. "Microsoft is a great partner," Apotheker said. "Microsoft will remain a great partner. The way we have enabled our webOS technology is to leverage the entire Microsoft ecosystem."
Whether Microsoft subscribes to that same view remains to be seen.
Battle for the Cloud
Apotheker and other HP executives haven't offered a detailed view of their plans for the cloud space, but it will likely involve a set of infrastructure and developer services. Of course, this places HP in direct competition with some of the biggest bruisers of the tech world: not only Microsoft, Google and Oracle, which all have designs on the cloud, but also Amazon.com, which has moved aggressively into cloud-based services.
An HP application store, due to open within the next few quarters, will offer consumer and enterprise applications for the cloud-ratcheting up competition with not only most of the aforementioned companies, but also Intel and its plans for an app storefront.
"We envision this to be an open cloud marketplace that will offer secure, scalable and trusted enterprise applications and services catalogs," is how Apotheker described HP's plans.
It's easy to imagine the other companies seeing those words as a threat.
During its Feb. 9 press conference, HP whipped the curtain back from two new webOS-powered smartphones: the Pre 3 and the Veer. The latter is an ultra-slim device with a rounded shape reminiscent of the original Palm Pre, and equipped with a 2.6-inch touch-screen. Hardware also includes a 5-megapixel camera and 8GB of built-in memory.
The Pre 3 also borrows heavily from the design of the original Palm Pre, with a 3.6-inch screen, sliding QWERTY keyboard and a notably powerful 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor. HP plans on offering the device in HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access) and EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) versions.
"WebOS is HP's Trojan horse to marry Cloud, Mobile and Social," Ray Wang, principal analyst of Constellation Research, wrote in a March 10 e-mail to eWEEK. "It's a smart move in leveraging an underused asset."
It will also thrust HP firmly into the smartphone arena, where it will face competition from not only Apple's iPhone and the growing family of Google Android devices, but also its good buddy Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform.
Apotheker obviously has some big plans. But it will take substantial resources on HP's part, not to mention peerless execution of a sprawling strategy, if it wants to succeed in a Wild West of cloud services, tablets, smartphones and competitor-friends like Microsoft.