The Palm Is Dead. Long Live the WebOS. So What?

At a long stretched-out event in San Francisco, Hewlett-Packard (s HWP) launched a series of Palm devices, which are powered by a new, upgraded and, according to them, a much-improved mobile operating system, WebOS. HP, which bought Palm for $1.2 billion last year decided to kill off the Palm brand. They launched three new smartphones under the HP brand — Pre 2, Pre 3 and HP Veer — and to me they are marginally interesting.

What was more impressive — the HP Touchpad tablet running WebOS. In theory it seems to be one of the best competitors for the Apple iPad (I think Google’s Android OS on tablets is a tad half-baked). By using its core multitasking features, HP has created an extremely integrated user experience that marries applications to actual usage behavior and workflows.

There is certain seamlessness to the new WebOS, something one typically expects from Apple. If the demo was an indication, then I really did want to use it. Unfortunately, that is where things started to fall apart. Much like a series of devices announced around the new Android OS, the new HP Touchpad isn’t going to be available anytime soon.

HP didn’t offer the timing of the device, or how much it would cost, instead choosing to focus on features, speeds and feeds. Well, I guess that is what you do, when you don’t have a product. Another thing that made me cautious about the device — and wholeheartedly endorsing it — is that I don’t quite know how good it is in everyday use, when it will come to market and how much it will cost.

And that is before I even ask the big question: Where are the developers and the apps? I think it was the lack of developer traction (and somewhat of an average device design) that did Palm in in the first place. Sure they have Skype, Evernote, Kindle and a handful of other mobile device staples but those are just playing stakes. They need a lot more than that.

Toward the end of the long launch presentation, HP’s SVP Todd Bradley said that HP was going to put WebOS on its PCs and other devices. HP didn’t really elaborate on its WebOS and PC plans. I am betting it wouldn’t be a wholesale jettisoning of Windows, instead it will be a layer on top of Windows. I would say that it would be one way of getting developer attention. (It surely got Microsoft’s attention.)

The brute force of total numbers is with Android (though it is continually evolving) and Apple. From that perspective, HP is going to be fighting an uphill battle. Now that said, I still think they are in a much better place when compared to Nokia (s NOK) and Microsoft (s MSFT), which have failed to capitalize on the tablet revolution, despite being early champions. HP could easily go after the corporate market — and that wouldn’t be such a bad place.

So in summation, I would say HP has taken the right first step to the future. But as Jerry Seinfeld would say, not that there is anything wrong with that!

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