HP’s WebOS: 100m+ devices this year? Time to look at their platform…

Screen shot 2011 03 31 at 16 38 00

First, the background.

I remember being really excited by the introduction of Palm’s all new WebOS and the Palm Pre. At the time, I remember rating WebOS slightly higher than the bog-standard first edition of iOS. I remember Palm being a forced to be reckoned with. I remember when the ultra-geeks I knew were seriously debating whether to buy an iPhone or ‘wait for the Pre’.

It all went wrong though. I remember filming in the Palm stand a few years ago at Mobile World Congress. We’d just finished doing the overview of the Pre and we’d gone on to doing an interview with one of their new partners when the PR lady physically interrupted and told us to get out.

“You can only film Palm, here!” she screamed. Our man Ben, who was conducting the interview calmly explained that we were filming with one of their software developer partners. The PR lady was furious.

“Get out!” she said.

We did get out. We still published the interview and the device review, but I think it’s fair to say I thought, “Screw you, with bells on,” at that point.

I don’t remember writing much about Palm after that. The company began to experience financial troubles — and with award-winning public relations like that, it’s not difficult to see how the industry’s viewpoint on Palm began to wane.

The devices and, in particular, WebOS, remained pretty nifty. I remember privately lamenting the fact that Palm had left the stage when the industry really, really needed their involvement against Apple and Android.

I’d have liked to have seen how a Nokia-Palm or RIM-Palm future would have panned out. Badly, I suspect.

But an HP-Palm future?

Love it.

I always felt HP had more in the tank than just simply knocking out Windows Mobile 6.5 devices like the very worst OEM provider. No love. No care. And absolutely NO excitement whatsoever.

The HP mobile story didn’t really gel with the company’s rather impressive efforts in the printing, laptop and desktop world. Their devices were looking nice, functioning well and attracting buyers in spades. But there was a big hole in the mobile segment.

Palm has filled that, beautifully.

The new devices are looking simply wonderful. They’re genuinely inspired. I’m rather excited to see how the market reacts to the ultra small Veer — a smartphone to rival the size of the very popular Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini.

And then we have the tablets. I got a good look at the company’s WebOS devices and was pleased to see they’d done some out-of-the-box thinking (like the ability to send photos between devices just by touching/flicking).

But HP Palm? A bit player, surely?

Well, not so fast.

HP’s working on placing WebOS at the centre of their consumer device strategy. And by device, I’m not just talking mobile phone. As a quick reminder — and as an illustration of the company’s might — HP ships two PCs and two printers every second.

Here’s what HP have to say about their intentions:

Smartphones and tablets are just the beginning. HP intends to bring webOS to PCs, printers, and so much more. webOS is key to the HP mobile strategy, and HP is placing its full marketing and distribution resources behind webOS, showcasing how HP products allow people to pursue their personal and professional passions.

And their App Market?

With HP’s global reach behind webOS, there’ll be an enormous market for webOS apps. No one has the reach and scale of HP when it comes to meeting the needs of technology consumers, whether they’re in the home, a school, small business, government, or large enterprise. By developing for webOS, you have an opportunity unlike anything else today.

I particularly like the words, “No one has the reach and scale of HP.

I sat down with HP’s Richard Kerris recently. He’s HP’s World Wide Head of Developer Relations for WebOS. And he means business. He talked me through their strategy and then we did a piece to camera that I’ll be publishing shortly.

Richard made a few key points. First off, he expects to see over one hundred million WebOS devices in the market by the end of this year.

I had to sit back and think about that one.

A hundred million devices? That’s easily achievable if you assume some nice healthy Palm device sales and you include most of the company’s consumer desktop/laptop and printer sales.

Does WebOS on a printer count as a device? I think it does. Just imagine the cool things that could be enabled by that!

The second point Richard made is that, HP is serious about developers. Very, very serious. The chap himself knows a thing or two about the power of the ecosystem, given the fact he used to run Apple’s Worldwide Developer Relations Group (and most recently was CTO over at LucasFilm).

I was particularly impressed by the chap’s manner. Radiating confidence, he left me in no doubt that he’ll be executing swiftly to ensure that the HP Palm developer ecosystem begins growing dramatically.

Richard also explained that whilst they’ll be working to deliver every possible assistance to developers looking to get involved, that will not include ‘buying love’. (Other platforms have been helping boost adoption of their operating systems by covering the development costs or in some cases, simply paying developers to write apps for their ecosystem). Richard reckons that just doesn’t work. You get a short-term benefit (i.e. an app in the store) but since it wasn’t made with passion and care, the long-term outlook for that app is rather bleak. For instance, unlikely to be supported beyond a cursory look from a developer now and again — and there’s unlikely to be future development or enhancement either.

This, I think, is a very fair point.

That’s not to say HP doesn’t intend helping out. Oh no. They’ve got big plans to support their developers both online and in terms of physical events. I’ll be bringing you more on this shortly.

I’m very excited at HP’s entrant into the mobile marketplace with Palm. I think the company has the resources, people and talent to make it work really, really well. And with people such as Richard on-board, I reckon WebOS is set to be a very big success over the coming years.

For far too long Apple has been the default ‘number one’, carrying the candle of [perceived] innovation, excitement and leadership in the marketplace. I’m pleased to see HP joining the table with Palm and WebOS.

Let’s see what you’ve got, HP… blow us away!

Now to the nitty gritty: The SDK for WebOS 3.0 was released last night — if your teams are already developing with Palm, they can get access right away. If not, they just need to register.

If your teams are heavily focused on iOS, converting or adding WebOS as a platform is — I’m told — simplicity itself, especially if your team’s current focus is OpenGL/SDL.

For all those in charge of allocating budget and attention for mobile platforms, I suggest you look carefully at what HP are doing now and where they’ll be in the future to make sure you’re not left behind. This, I suspect, is the time when you should be talking with HP to discuss what you might be able to do together.

If you’re working on some big projects and you’d like to talk at a high level with HP about possibilities — or perhaps get an introduction to Richard himself, drop me a note by email and I will connect you.

Meanwhile, standby for the video interview. I’ll have that up shortly.

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