Editorial: HP should make webOS available to all PCs, not just HP PCs
In trying to establish a meaningful foothold in the current mobile OS space, HP has a massive task on their hands. Apple defined what the smartphone market is today, and quite simply still are the benchmark for what a polished, walled-garden ecosystem should look like. Google has swarmed the market with it’s free-for-all approach in Android, shortening the release cycle for new handsets to such a breakneck pace that only the most well resourced competitors could possibly hope to keep up. Even two of the biggest technology companies on the planet, Microsoft and Nokia, have found reason to join forces in order to better compete. In the midst of this, HP announced on February 9th the potentially brilliant strategy of leveraging the full force of their PC and print distrubution scale to rapidly expand the webOS footprint. While this is an amazing stride in the right direction, I think they can go even further. If HP can take a page from Microsoft’s book, they might be able to make a monumental impact.
I can recall a time in the early 90’s where product keys weren’t as secure as they now are. Back then, I could install and use a friend’s copy of Microsoft Office on my computer using the CD Key that came with my Windows install disc (not that I did, of course). In those days, it was incredibly easy for anyone and everyone to be running Microsoft software because of an almost viral distribution that went along with Microsoft’s tight integration to new PC sales. Time went on and product keys did become more secure, but not before Word and Excel were nearly household terms. Fast forward to the smartphone footrace, and Google’s overt attempt at flooding the market with it’s software has succeeded in an even more dramatic fashion. So how can HP apply these lessons to their situation? It might be that most of the necessary components are already in place.
First, webOS needs to be compelling. In many ways, this is already done. There’s a small but rabidly enthusiastic fanbase for webOS in it’s current form, and the proper mindshare to allow that base to grow. Back when it was just Palm, webOS debuted as a product with innovative ideas, incredible polish, and terrific bones. From there, the media and developer relations teams did a stellar job of cultivating that consumer enthusiasm with things like active social media channels and open support for homebrew. Jump to today and the tools are finally becoming available to let developers really swing for the fences. Look at the comments on any tech blog post about webOS. Everyone loves its intuitive design, and lots of people continue to root for it as the underdog. The feeling coming through is that webOS deserves to succeed. The problem is, those people haven’t yet been willing to pony up for it with dated hardware and an app catalog that’s still cutting it’s teeth.
Second, distribution. HP has said it numerous times by now, and we’re fond of saying it as well. 2 devices shipped per second. That’s mind-boggling scale. And unlike the partnerships necessary that put Microsoft Office on so many new PCs, HP has a vertically integrated ecosystem in webOS, making the whole process completely seamless. Add to that a very strong enterprise presence, and HP has had the distribution system firing on all cylinders for quite a while now.
Third, set it free. HP already has steps one and two in place for the most part, and they’re in a great position to kick things into an even higher gear. Now that they own this incredibly web-enabled OS, they should make it freely available for anyone to put on their PC. After all, the purchase of Palm is a sunk cost, and ultimately a waste if webOS doesn’t pick up enough users. So let every person who’s ever been curious about it take it for a spin on their PC for as long as they’d like. Make it browser accessible and have a desktop-integrated version available for free download. Give them all Palm Profiles and access to the App Catalog. It fits in perfectly with the openness that Palm has embraced since 2009, and once those PC users see how great the system works, they’ll have concrete, personal reasons to take it with them. When that happens, the only webOS handsets out there will be HP’s.
With mere weeks to go before the new wave of webOS products come to market, HP has done quite a few things right. People are excited about the new hardware, and impressed by the continued innovation in webOS. The groundwork is mostly laid for HP to make a grand re-entrance into this highly competitive race, but making a podium finish is still far from certain. No one will argue that HP’s scale has the potential to create a big impact, but when you’re competing against the likes of Apple, Google, and Microsoft, can you ever have enough? Open up webOS to desktops everywere HP, and beat Google at their own game.