OPINION

Birth of Googorola, Rebirth of Compaq, Death of RIM

Last week’s announcement of Google’s plans to acquire Motorola — Googorola — created a massive change for Android licensees. They are now looking for alternatives, tossing the biggest smartphone platform into flux and increasing the interest in what will happen to RIM — with specific emphasis on its QNX platform.

As if that weren’t enough, speculation surrounding the HP spinoff of its PC division tossed the PC market into flux, initially benefiting Apple, Lenovo, and Dell but suggesting that Compaq could be reborn. The Holy Crap moments just keep coming as executives across the personal technology ecosystem move to respond to what may be the biggest series of changes ever seen in a single five-day period in the history of the industry.

I’ll close with my product of the week: Booklamp is a really interesting free service that helps you find books you didn’t know about in a Pandora-like fashion. I’m a huge reader.

Birth of Googorola

What is particularly fascinating about the acquisition of Motorola by Google is Google’s efforts to suggest that nothing has really changed. This is like a guy, after getting married, going back to an old girlfriend and suggesting they can continue dating because the marriage doesn’t matter.

Yes it happens, but something has also clearly changed — like the guy, it makes Google appear less trustworthy. In fact, this move has companies that were licensing Android but already had their doubts about trusting Google — given surprises like the Chrome OS — simply locking down on this opinion and looking for other options.

Those options appear to be RIM’s QNX, licensing HP’s now-dormant webOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows Phone platforms. Each has issues, however, which is why there is growing speculation that another independent OS will emerge to take the place of Android.

Briefly, QNX isn’t interesting as long as it belongs to RIM — but given that RIM is seen as failing, there is a chance it might spin QNX out as a separate company again, or that RIM will be acquired by someone like HTC that both could raise the capital to buy it and is in the most dire need for a replacement for Android.

WebOS is uninteresting as part of a unit that makes tablets and phones, but if it stays with HP as the PC division is spun out, it could be the leading replacement because it is the strongest iOS alternative. As of this moment, licensing it out appears to be the plan. Microsoft, if it can address concerns about its bifurcated Windows platforms and get better carrier support, is in the best position to benefit — but it has been unwilling or unable to address the concerns about its platform.

In short, any of these players could move into the breach, but all have issues in doing so, which suggests we can’t yet call a clear beneficiary here. But the one vendor that makes the right moves suddenly has a huge opportunity to move into the breach that Google has created.

This looks like the emergence of a three-horse race for tablets and smartphones, with Apple and Googorola as the most likely top two players, and Microsoft, QNX and an HP-owned-and-licensed webOS contesting for that third spot. Based on what is coming out of HP, it appears to be the closest at getting this right, in terms of losing the hardware and then stepping into the gap the Android/Motorola merger has created.

Compaq Rebirth

The spinout of the HP PC division — at least, as I’m writing this — will either result in a sale or an investor buyout (I’m told Todd Bradley is apparently driving the latter). If it becomes a separate company, the most likely path is the recreation of Compaq, because that brand is still well regarded and this would vastly increase its chance of success.

However Acer, Lenovo and even Google might be willing to buy the unit for different reasons: Google to get licenses to HP’s patent portfolio and to ensure at least initial success for its Chrome OS efforts (and, frankly, to really piss off Microsoft); the others to ensure a No. 1 position in the PC market. China, in particular, would love to take a key technology market from the U.S. and might be willing to cofund the acquisition. However, getting this through U.S. regulatory approval would be nearly impossible.

This leaves the highest likelihood being a consortium of investors that would spin out this division and operate it independently of HP. The best path would be to call it “Compaq,” because that brand is still trusted and has power in both the consumer and enterprise segments.

I understand that there is a consortium in play being driven by Todd Bradley, the current operating leader. However, Bradley, while strong operationally, is a poor CEO, and I would expect him to be replaced prior to an emerged firm becoming successful. The unit would likely be better off with a more dynamic CEO who didn’t have the history of failure (Gateway, Palm, Voodoo PC, Palm again) that Bradley has — but he likely would be fine for the initial divestiture.

In the short term, or until the new Compaq finishes its divestiture, Apple, Dell and Lenovo are likely to benefit due to the uncertainty. Eventually, though, given how successful Lenovo has been separate from IBM, the new company has the chance of being more agile than it was as part of HP. This may take as long as 18 months, using the Lenovo example, to fully execute.

Wrapping Up

There is no doubt that last week was a world-changing week. We entered it with Apple dominant, Android trending, and the PC vendors stable. We ended with Android as we know it effectively dead, a new company — Googorola — that will eventually mimic Apple, a vastly more-focused HP, and a new/old PC company being reborn (Compaq).

WebOS failed, but if it finds new outlets, it may actually end up as a better competitor as a result. Microsoft is in a better position — and this is a common comment — if it can just execute. There is even a chance a new OS could emerge shortly that didn’t exist two weeks ago. You don’t see this level of change often. Thank god.

Product of the Week: Booklamp

Product of the Week

Tim Bajarin, who runs Creative Strategies, brought this product to my attention at a vendor meeting last week, and it is an amazing product. Booklamp is a free Web offering that allows you to put in books you like and get back recommendations on books you might like but didn’t know about. It currently has about 600K books indexed, which sounds like a lot, but is likely a magnitude below where it needs to be to be truly useful.

BookLamp.org

The books are indexed across a number of vectors based on content, and the result is an experience not unlike one of the self-selecting music services like Pandora or Slacker.

If you are an Amazon user — particularly a Kindle reader — you’ll find a similar service in Amazon, but this one appears to have far more potential, and it is vendor independent. So, it works if you don’t want to live on Amazon, which I kind of do.

Because I love to read and am always on the hunt for new books, and this tool helps fill that need, Booklamp is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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