HP, working from its recent acquisition of Palm, has released its first new smartphone device to the market. The new Pre looks substantial and runs the latest version of WebOS, a modern operating system that could have been a real contender if it was out one to two years earlier.
But is WebOS a credible smartphone differentiator in a very crowded market? Is WebOS, under HP's stewardship, enough to ignite the rebuilding of the Palm/Pre brand or is it just too late? The answer: yes and maybe not.
The smartphone market of today is very different from the market Palm helped build. There are huge momentum plays going on (Android, iPhone) that any new device or operating system will have to overcome. In my opinion, it's too late for HP to release a meaningful WebOS smartphone and have it get any real market share.
Palm aficionados have largely moved on-mostly to Android. Consumers are largely unaware of Palm and its new technology (ask most consumers about Palm and they'll probably wonder if the company still exists). Carrier relationships are weak at best.
And, even though the Palm brand is largely gone from the new Pre and WebOS, HP has less than a stellar record in smartphones itself, having been in the business for years with little to show for it (remember the iPaq phone?). So, it's unlikely an HP-branded phone will demand much attention-either from consumers or, ultimately, from the carriers through which HP must channel the devices. Nor will HP likely be able to convince many application creators to support yet another operating system, especially one with miniscule market share.
The only real opportunity for HP might be in emerging markets where the battle is not yet lost. But here, they face the onslaught of local (for example, Chinese, Indian, etc.) competition, many of whom are adopting Android. And Nokia still has incredibly strong brand recognition. HP does, too, but not in phones. Plus, its last effort at selling phones in China largely fizzled. So, the prospects for HP having any long-term success in smartphones either in mature or emerging markets is bleak.