Hewlett-Packard's completion of its Palm acquisition July 1 means that the smartphone business has a new, highly important player that could change the landscape in ways that matter to enterprise users.
By buying Palm, HP gets access to its current devices, the Pre and Pixi in both regular (for Sprint) and Plus (for Verizon Wireless) editions, but it also gets WebOS. While the devices and the existing sales outlets are important sources of revenue for HP's new division, they're not the main reason this acquisition took place.
HP really needs a new mobile operating system. For years now the company's generally well-designed devices have been saddled with one version or another of Microsoft's stodgy Windows Mobile OS. This meant that users had an interface that was impossible to love, that was inefficient and that didn't offer a ready source of the kind of applications that every other smartphone from Android devices to Research In Motion's BlackBerrys was featuring. So HP's iPaq was selling, slowly, to business customers that already had a deal with HP, could get it for a low price and needed a device that would work with their Exchange servers.
So now that HP owns Palm, what next? There will be a period of integration in which Palm employees decide whether they like working for a massive corporation with a global reach. There will be some false starts and pondering as HP and Palm try to figure out where Palm's products fit into HP's universe, and there will be a new effort to design platforms using HP's hardware skills and Palm's WebOS.
During that time, Palm engineers will be trying out the HP corporate culture. HP will be trying to find ways to get as many of them as possible to stay. For Palm's engineers, at least, this could be the best possible outcome. Unlike most other megacorporations, HP is extremely decentralized. The company's divisions operate almost autonomously, and the culture in different divisions can be quite diverse while still existing happily under one corporate umbrella.
In addition, Palm's engineers will find that they suddenly have access to a breadth of financial and development resources far beyond anything they've experienced. HP has a long history of innovation, and it has divisions making virtually any device you can think of.
In addition, Palm's engineers will have a new mission that they couldn't have had the ability to accomplish in the past-to develop an enterprise-capable tablet device that will rival the iPad in ease of use, with a real enterprise-class mobile operating system and a broad customer base.