Does HP Want to Be the New Apple?

With HP’s $1.2 billion planned acquisition of Palm (s palm), the computer giant hopes to turn Palm’s webOS operating system into a platform to rival Apple’s (s aapl) mobile computing franchise. “Ultimately the Palm webOS and Apple are the two that can scale best over multiple devices and we are going to compete with Apple going forward in the broader mobile category,” said Brian Humphries, SVP of corporate strategy and development at HP (s hpq).
I spoke with Humphries last night after the deal was announced, but he declined repeatedly to give details as to when or what devices may get webOS. So we have no idea if the HP Slate that Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft (s msft), was waving about at CES will continue to have Windows or webOS, but we do know that HP has a big vision for webOS — it hopes to put it across an array of mobile devices, creating a platform backed by the power of HP’s sales and distribution channels to which developers will flock.
A huge portion of HP’s message around this deal is aimed at reassuring developers that webOS isn’t a dying platform and that HP is willing to invest. Humphries was adamant that developers will find a supportive HP (GigaOM Pro, sub req’d). “We’re clearly giving them dev tools, a platform they can port to, an easy financial model that’s viable to them and confidence that the OS will be scaled globally and on many different form factors,” Humphries said.
It’s clear that HP is modeling its mobile computing vision on Apple’s (s aapl) platform, and when I asked how many mobile operating systems the world has room for, Humphries hedged for a bit saying the market is large and that it was difficult to see how things might develop, however when pressed he said that only webOS and Apple really have the ability to scale across many devices and many markets.
As for HP’s willingness to be more open than Apple, perhaps taking a page from its personal computing heritage, it doesn’t look good. “Apple is proprietary but it also has a tremendous relationship with the app developer,” Humphries said. “And it may have a closed OS on which the app community can sit, but the apps make it open.”