HP Sows Seeds for WebOS Ecosystem

HP is trolling for partners as the computer giant attempts to build an ecosystem for webOS, the operating system it acquired last summer when it bought Palm for US$1.2 billion. CEO Leo Apotheker said that he sees webOS as a licensing opportunity.

At All Things Digital’s D9 conference on Wednesday, Apotheker noted that webOS is an outstanding operating system and said HP would entertain the possibility of licensing its use to other companies, including smartphone giant HTC.

HP is readying the launch of its 9.7-inch TouchPad tablet, which will run on webOS. It will compete against Apple’s market-dominating iPad and a slew of tablets running Android, which has gained wide acceptance on smartphones.

HP’s inability to bring webOS to market sooner was regrettable, Apotheker said, but added that he is now focused on getting it out and proving its value.

WebOS will be adopted by many partners that provide services to small-to-medium businesses, he suggested.

HP plans to use webOS for its smartphones and all printers over $100. Apotheker is aiming for the No. 3 spot in the smartphone market, behind Android and Apple.

Palm did not have the resources to successfully implement webOS, Apotheker acknowledged, but he is confident and optimistic that HP can do the job effectively.

HP did not respond to the E-Commerce Times’ request for comments by press time.

Slipping WebOS Into the Embedded World

HP’s best bet for webOS licensing is turning to noncompetitors, licensing it for products that HP doesn’t produce and market.

“Apotheker probably is thinking more along the lines of using webOS on alternative devices — devices that HP won’t be making,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

“It’s hard to believe they would license it for competing products,” he continued, “and it’s hard to believe competing products would be interested if they would be competing with HP. You would have a hard time protecting what you’re doing if you licensed it to competitors. It has been done — Apple tried — but it hasn’t been done successfully.”

Companies that manufacture TVs, appliances and cars could be good partners, as many of these products are moving into advanced electronics and now require sophisticated operating systems.

HP is “looking to create an ecosystem for TVs, in-car entertainment, smart appliances, security systems — a lot of the embedded systems that would benefit from a rich operating system,” said Enderle.

For example, “you can use licensing to build out an ecosystem so the phone and the tablet can be used as super controllers for the TV,” he said. “This will help things work better, and that includes a lot of those things HP will not want to build.”

Microsoft has already covered some of this ground with its embedded business, Enderle noted, but this is an emerging market, so a powerhouse like HP could find partners. Manufacturers with a product in need of a quality OS may be willing to kick the tires of webOS.

Aiming for the Service Industries

Eager to publicize the availability of webOS, Apotheker took advantage the D9 conference to reach out to possible allies across a wide market swath. The trick is making sure the company secures multiple partners.

“Who’s going to bite on this? Apotheker is casting his net upon the water to see what’s out there,” Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times.

“In this economy, it’s a smart strategy,” she said. “You have to have partners. This is the old tried-and- true don’t put all your eggs into one basket. You need multiple partners, because things are still uncertain for a lot of people. I think Apotheker’s strategy is sound. He has been loading up the HP executive ranks with his former buddies … . HP has done well in Europe with their services industry. That could help them globally.”

Possible partners for this license could include some companies that are far outside the high-tech industry, suggested DiDio. These can include healthcare, banking and retail operations. HP’s possibilities are broad, especially with new technologies requiring more advanced operating systems.

“They could have some nontraditional applications,” she said. “HP is strong in banking, government, in healthcare — and they’re going to do conferencing. WebOS could help with virtual company meetings. HP is building an ecosystem. It’s one of the things HP does best.”

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