Elance Blog

HP & Palm: What Does It Mean for the Smartphone Market & Developers?

Yesterday, a bomb of atomic proportions was dropped into the smartphone market as Hewlett-Packard, one of the world’s largest electronic device manufacturers and the current reigning champ of the PC manufacturing arena, bought Palm for $1.2 billion USD. Palm, mostly noted for its recent innovations with the webOS software on the Pre and the Pixi, had been struggling to gain significant marketshare in the crowded smartphone market currently dominated by Apple, RIM, and Google.

It’s completely reasonable to make the logical assumption that the folks at HP HQ were after Palm’s crown jewel, the webOS platform, but speculations of the following ramifications regarding the purchase are starting to surface. Here’s my take (of course, take this with a grain of salt):

  1. More Hardware: This one is a no brainer. If you buy a shoe company, you’re probably going to sell shoes at some point and make it part of your core business. The purchase of Palm is no different. And since HP has largely been out of the mobile hardware market in recent memory (the last phone I can remember is the iPaq 910c) expect the obvious to occur: HP will pump out more new phone and device variations taking advantage of the slick webOS platform, as opposed to Palm’s limited number of offerings - the Palm Pre and the Palm Pixi (plus editions included.) Speaking of platforms…
  2. The Break Up: HP and Microsoft have long been allies in the mobile marketplace – if there was an HP smartphone in the wild, you’d better bet that some form of Windows Mobile/PocketPC was driving the device. While the jury is still out on whether or not HP will fully drop Microsoft on its smartphones for its recent acquisition, in my opinion, it’s expected that HP will shift from Windows Mobile/Phone and will push webOS very aggressively. I guess the real question is if this will be a story of estranged friends continuing an awkward relationship or a long, drawn out break up. (This won't be a huge deal for Microsoft as they're busy making advancements with their new Windows Phone platform.)
  3. Stock for webOS Will Rise: While the community of Palm developers has remained one of the smaller groups in the space, don’t expect the webOS community to die out into extinction, especially if HP has anything to do with it. As for right now, demand for developers may not be exploding out of control anytime soon, but think of this as the calm before the storm – once HP starts releasing devices several months down the road, the demand for skilled freelance developers and consultants will rise, and for you mobile wizards out there, it’d be a good idea to have some supply on hand.
  4. Phones Are Just a First: HP manufacturers a ton of devices – from laptops, netbooks, mobile phones, digital cameras, and countless other electronic goodies. With webOS in its stable, expect to see phones, netbooks, and maybe even a tablet/e-reader device to hit the market sporting Palm’s operating system. Who knows, maybe we’ll see webOS popping up around the house and workplace more than we may expect. Sounds like the HP crew in Palo Alto have their targets set on a company down the road in Cupertino.

Will HP find success in the mobile phone marketplace? Will we see webOS turn into a viable competitor to the iPhone SDK? Or will this all just be an afterthought five years from now?

This is what I love about the ongoing saga that is the consumer electronics industry. It’s equally exciting as it is unpredictable.

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