HP has officially completed the acquisition of Palm, making it the proud owner of Palm's coveted intellectual property including WebOS. It is hardly a surprise that before the ink was even dry on finalizing the purchase, HP announced its intent to build an array of mobile devices around the WebOS platform--including the predicted WebOS tablet.
Following a grandiose unveiling of the Windows 7-based Slate by Microsoft and HP at CES earlier this year, HP continued to hype the advantages of the tablet over the impending Apple iPad. However, some poor initial reviews of the Slate prototype, and the flawed logic of trying to compete with the iPad by cramming a desktop into a tablet form factor led HP to pull the plug.
HP instead acquired the flailing Palm, and with it the very capable WebOS mobile platform. Rumors immediately began to circulate that the Slate would be reborn as a WebOS tablet. Now, those predictions are coming true as HP plans to revive WebOS from the ashes and use it as the foundation for tablets, smartphones, and other mobile computing devices.
From an enterprise perspective, the HP tablet may make more sense than the Apple iPad. Like its Windows 7-based predecessor, the HP WebOS tablet is expected to have most of the features and functionality missing from the iPad. A tablet built on a mobile OS, but including USB or SD memory card ports, front and/or rear facing cameras, and compatibility with Adobe Flash content offers business professionals a number of compelling reasons to shun the iPad.
While it is not Windows, HP's close relationship with Microsoft may lead it to integrate WebOS more tightly with Microsoft server and desktop applications and services. With HP's backing, WebOS could emerge as the mobile OS that Windows Mobile -- or now Windows Phone 7 -- should be.
Arguably, Microsoft missed a prime opportunity in not purchasing Palm itself. While Microsoft enjoys a comfortable dominance in many markets, its efforts to capture the mobile market have floundered. While its not a business device, the very quick and abrupt failure of the Kin, followed by Microsoft pulling the plug on the Sidekick, illustrate the steep hill Microsoft has yet to climb.
Windows Phone 7 seems to hold some promise, but the repeated delays and launching in the wake of iPhone 4 and a whole slew of exceptionally capable Android-based smartphones like the Droid X put Windows Phone 7 behind the proverbial 8-ball before it even hits the streets.
Although Palm was in free fall, its WebOS platform is very capable and has been praised by both industry experts and users. With Microsoft's marketing muscle and distribution channels, it could have taken WebOS and built a mobile empire on it.
Instead, Microsoft continues to struggle to adapt to the evolving mobile computing market, and now it has a new competitor to deal with in HP and WebOS.