HP Grooming webOS for Assault on Android, Apple iOS

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-03-19

HP Grooming webOS for Assault on Android, Apple iOS

When new HP CEO Leo Apotheker said he expected the company's webOS platform on 100 million devices a year, he effectively declared war on Google's Android and Apple's iOS mobile platforms.

Apotheker made it clear at HP's Summit March 14 that webOS, the mobile operating system HP gained in its acquisition of Palm would be the centerpiece for the company's new push into mobile computing.

"webOS has the potential to become a very broad and very massive platform," Apotheker said, adding that he wants to get webOS running on desktop PCs, laptops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones and printers.

HP's current focus on webOS smartphones such as the Palm Pre 3, and webOS tablets such as the forthcoming TouchPad, mean the company plans to munch market share currently enjoyed by Apple's iPhone and iPad and Google Android smartphones and tablets.

"There is no doubt WebOS is a direct Android competitor (Apple as well). With it, HP wants to stake out its own ecosystem and rival the complete environments created by the others (think WebOS App Store, iTunes equivalent)," industry analyst Jack Gold told eWEEK.

But 100 million devices a year? That's ambitious, isn't it? Not necessarily. Gold said it should be easy for HP to reach those numbers if they put webOS on all printers and many of their mobile devices.

Others aren't so sure. Gartner Research analyst Ken Dulaney said that while HP introduced the Pre 3 and Veer slider phones last month, it has yet to produce a full touchscreen phone to compete with the iPhone or popular Android handsets such as the Samung Nexus S.

"They really needed to cement their capability to work on a full touchscreen device as a way of getting into the smartphone business, which is ultimately going to be a lot larger volume than the tablets," Dulaney said.

This will be tough to do at a time when Android and iPhone have become the dominant platforms in U.S. Even perennial smartphone leader Research in Motion is fading behind its upstart rivals.

Dulaney is more perplexed by HP's strategy to pair webOS with Microsoft Windows on desktops and laptops, allowing those computers to interact with HP's smartphones and tablets.

HP to Tackle Android, Apple in Mobile Market

There will be a beta version of WebOS running on Windows in a browser by the end of this year, with webOS shipping on Windows PCs in 2012. 

"We're a little puzzled about what he's up to with webOS. We don't necessarily see the logic of what's going on. Maybe the dream is that you buy all of their tablets, or smartphones or PCs, and there will be a version of webOS to run widgets on top of the devices."

This is not unlike the user interface experiences provided on existing Android smartphones running Motorola's Motoblur, or HTC's Sense UI.   

Yet Dulaney said there's no guarantee the widgets developed for smartphones will run effectively on a tablet or a PC, let alone that consumers will want them.

But Gold said WebOS could be a side process that has instant start-up and not require the long boot times of Windows.

Ideally, this would get users on the Web or into their e-mail almost instantly. Moreover, Windows has a weak touch-based interface, so this could be a way for HP to implement touch on a Windows machine, he said.

IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell is fairly certain HP and Apotheker are on to something. By putting webOS onto its PCs and laptops, it could draw developers to port apps for its webOS smartphones and tablets.

"What you could do is run not only apps in a webOS environment but also synchronize your data from your PC running Windows into webOS into a seamless fashion," O'Donnell said. "There will be a lot of devices that could potentially run it."

This will lure developers to webOS. The challenge, O'Donnell said, is in execution. How will HP get users to run webOS on their HP PC? That remains to be seen.

"I'm not sure it's all been baked yet and they may still be trying to figure all of this out," Gold said. "It's a huge company with undoubtedly conflicting groups and strategies... it will be interesting to see who wins out."


Rocket Fuel