Hewlett Packard's decision to purchase Palm for $1.2 billion strikes me as a bold but possibly misguided move to give HP the technology it needs to compete with Apple, Google and Research in Motion (Blackberry) not just with smartphones but possibly iPad-like tablet computers.
On the positive side, Palm's Web OS is an excellent operating system for mobile devices. It's clean, well organized and easy to use. I was one of several reviewers who gave the Pre a generally positive review when it was released in June, 2009. I liked the way it synchronized data over the air and how it organized windows into "cards." I also appreciated that -- unlike the iPhone at the time -- it was a multitasking operating system that lets you run several programs at a time.
Yet, despite some good reviews, it never really took off. For one thing, it's hard for anyone to get in the way of the iPhone juggernaut. Also, Google started shipping its Android phones which stole Palm's cool factor. Like Palm, Android is multi-tasking and does a good job at organizing multiple applications. Also, it runs on multiple devices from multiple carriers.
Of course there's nothing to stop HP from doing deals with multiple carriers in the U.S. and abroad and developing some slicker and more impressive phones for the Palm OS. What's more, just as Apple proved by porting its iPhone operating system over to the iPad, it's theoretically possible to use Web OS for other mobile devices including tablet PCs. Though I doubt that Web OS could possibly be an iPad killer, it could give HP the software platform it needs to come out with a credible competitor.
While I am totally speculating about whether HP would use the Palm OS for a tablet, we do know that the company is working on a Windows 7 tablet or "slate" computer to be released later this year. It might be interesting for them to come out with both a Windows and a Palm OS version.
The big question is whether HP has enough marketing muscle to succeed where Palm failed. I have no doubt that the combined companies will be able to create very cool software and hardware, but I'm not convinced they will get the sales they need -- at least in the smartphone business -- to justify a $1.2 billion investment. Still, I have to say I'm happy about the deal if only because it rescues a real pioneer in the smart phone and PDA business. It was Palm, with its Palm Pilot, that created the first successful PDA -- the Palm Pilot -- back in 1997. Palm made the transition to smart phones but never made it big in this market. With HP as its new parent, perhaps it has a shot, but it's a long-shot.
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