My visit to Palm: no revelations, but lots of encouraging words | webOS Nation
 
 

My visit to Palm: no revelations, but lots of encouraging words

by Jonathan I Ezor#IM Tue, 12 Apr 2011 8:36 pm EDT

As I had posted to the forums, I took advantage of a speaking engagement in San Francisco to reach out to Jon Zilber and his colleagues at HP about dropping by for a pilgrimage visit at the Sunnyvale HQ on April 12th. They were nice enough to agree, and I spent about an hour that afternoon with Zilber, Justin Ried and Evan Wilbrecht, taking a quick tour of the building (sorry, I didn't get to see any super sekrit labs) and sitting down in the cafeteria for a chat about webOS' present and future. Happily (but unsurprisingly), they were well aware of the questions being posted by our forum members, and we got to as many of them as we could given the limited time available. Nope, no breaking news here, but I got a good sense of the overall approach HP is taking, and it seems to be a promising one.

A few people wanted me to ask about some of the abandoned apps such as Classic and ePocrates. The Palm folks did not discuss those situations specifically, but rather pointed out that any relationship with software vendors is more complicated than simply "we wanted to continue and Palm/HP said no." For their part, commercial software developers seek revenue, whether through direct sales to consumers or by having their applications preloaded on a device in exchange for a royalty from the manufacturer. Those deals require negotiations; if the negotiations do not yield sufficient benefits to both sides, the deals don't go through, and what gets reported by one or the other side to the public may not reflect the full story.

More generally, HP's strategy for webOS across both its enterprise and consumer channels is forward-looking. Rather than focusing on a particular vendor and application that has historically been the product for a particular market, HP is evaluating current and future customer needs, and figuring out what combination of proprietary and third-party hardware, software, and services will best fulfill those needs, in order to make that combination available. That might not preclude encouraging a vendor like ePocrates to (re)enter the webOS market, but wouldn't necessarily require such efforts either. Remember, HP has literally thousands of its employees on site at its customers, together with a huge worldwide consumer presence, and such a deep integration with and understanding of its customers will yield significantly better needs analyses.

We touched a bit on the enterprise versus consumer dynamic. While HP clearly has substantial advantages over any competitors that will help it establish and expand webOS on the enterprise, it is also very dedicated to the consumer marketplace, with the Veer as a prime example of a consumer-focused product. As Zilber put it, "we want to sell both to you [an enterprise customer] and your nine-year-old daughter." It is easier to sell the number of devices via bulk sales to a few big enterprise customers than to explain to many, many consumers one at a time why webOS is a better choice than the numerous devices running Android, iOS and operating systems. As far as products, I asked the about the Veer's battery life, especially given the suggestion by Jon Rubinstein that it could serve as a regular mobile hotspot for the Touchpad, and was told that in their personal (though still early) experience, the Veer's battery life overall was good.

As for the Pre and Pixi original and Plus owners left without an official webOS 2.x upgrade path, HP is definitely well aware of the fact that lots of us feel that they still need to "make it right", whether it's through a  trade-in program as it has done before, or something else. As you might expect, HP was not ready to tell us what their plans are.

Finally, we talked about how webOS is spreading throughout HP itself. While it is clear that HP is firmly committed to webOS as a critical part of its strategy, the vast majority of HP's workforce is only beginning to learn about webOS, its features and advantages, and how it can work for HP's customers. There is plenty of interest among HP's divisions about webOS, but the Palm Global Business Unit is still working to spread understanding to its sister business units about the mobile phone marketplace, its particular sales cycles, and the role of carriers in the process. As that understanding spreads, and as the upcoming webOS devices hit the market and get into both HP'ers and customers' hands, it will be much easier for HP's sales and service personnel to highlight webOS' unique features and competitive strengths for their markets. (For that matter, HP is already hiring webOS subject matter experts to enhance its sales efforts.)

Above all, my visit reminded me how unique Palm is among its competitors in its continuing commitment to its relationship with its users. Witness how readily they welcomed my visit. Yes, I'm a PreCentral writer, but I made it very clear that I was asking as a longtime user and fan, not a journalist, and the answer was an immediate and enthusiastic "yes." Zilber and his colleagues know, and care about, the concerns of the webOS community, and that approach is encouraged not only by Palm's own management, but by the upper-level execs within HP. Certainly, HP is still a huge worldwide and publicly traded company, with the inertia inherent in such entities (pundits frequently analogize large corporations to cruise ships or aircraft carriers in terms of how slowly they change direction). Still, even the largest companies have a culture which informs the decisions they make and their relationship to their customers. In sharp contrast to the "our way or else" philosophies of Apple and even Google, HP (at least via its Palm Global Business Unit) continues to demonstrate that in the smartphone and tablet marketplace, its users' views, and voices, matter.

Bonus below: pictures of Palm HQ and a video of the display cases of actual and prototype smartphones on display there (all taken, of course, with my Pre 2):