The acquisition battle has come and gone, and it’s HP that’s become Palm’s new owner. In general this news has been greeted with glad cries, despite (or maybe because) it was so unexpected. In general everybody assumes that the marriage of Palm software and HP hardware will be a good one, and that HP will also release a webOS-based tablet device.
However, there’s an interesting dissenting opinion on VisionMobile (a blog I highly recommend, by the way). Guest author Michael Valukenko sees few synergies between Palm and HP, and pinpoints three problems besetting the new hPalm combination:
There is a very simple answer to the second problem, and that answer might conceivably solve the first and third problem, too.
That answer is the web.
This will certainly help them attract web developers. It might conceivably interest operators, too, although that’s a much more complex problem. As to consumers, they won’t care about the fact itself, but they could be interested in some nice tricks that are made possible by the web.
Let’s solve hPalm’s developer problem first. That’s by far the easiest part.
Obviously, mobile developers won’t be too interested in developing for yet another platform. But web developers might be. They haven’t yet embraced any specific platform, and might be very interested in playing with a web-based OS.
I already blogged about the fundamental problem but will repeat myself anyway: everybody wants web technologies, nobody wants web developers. For some curious reason all mobile players are waiting passively for web developers to fall into their laps. Palm was no exception until last September or so — far too late to support the initial release of the Pre.
If hPalm reaches out seriously, it can easily scoop up a whole new set of developers that isn’t yet married to any single platform and that will certainly be interested in taking their web-based talent to mobile.
Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith are doing what they can as Palm’s developer relations managers, but they were hired too late, and besides I get the distinct feeling that they have to do absolutely everything by themselves. The job is obviously too much even for two hard workers such as Dion and Ben, and to me the surprise is that they booked any results at all.
Now, with HP pouring money into Palm, they might get some help and a serious outreach programme might be started. Besides, work can get started to bring webOS even more in line with the mobile web; most importantly by supporting W3C Widgets, the core technology behind HTML5 apps.
If all this happens, and if the newly-invigorated hPalm makes serious inroads on web developers’ attention, then why, hPalm might find itself winning the hearts and minds of an as-yet unaligned group of developers that already has the technical knowledge to build webOS apps, and has built a thriving blog and conference ecosystem that can serve to reinforce the message.
Serious outreach to web developers, backed by a serious budget, will solve hPalm’s developer problems overnight.
Obviously, the average consumer doesn’t care about the platform his phone runs; he just wants to be able to make voice calls, send text messages, browse the web, and install and use cool apps. The first three requirements are met by any smartphone platform; it’s the fourth where hPalm might run into trouble.
As we saw, the company might be able to find a new group of developers that’s eager and enthusiastic to work with webOS. Still, even if web developers migrate en masse, for the time being hPalm’s app store will remain distinctly behind Android’s, and never mind Apple’s.
So something extra is called for in order to win the hearts and minds of consumers. Might that extra be the ability to share applications with friends even if those friends use another phone? It conceivably might; it has never been tried before.
And here we again come back to HTML5 apps. Eventually, it will be possible to send them to other phones via Bluetooth.
(In fact, I’ve already done so by sending a W3C Widget written for Vodafone’s S60 widget manager to a Windows Mobile 6.5 phone. And it worked. Granted, the process is convoluted and not yet ready for use by consumers, and I had to solve one incompatibility problem, but the functionality is there and will only improve with time.)
Everything that’s really required here is an easy-to-use “send via Bluetooth” option that comes with every hPalm app (well, except maybe for some firmware ones). Using it would send the HTML5 app over to the other phone. Of course that phone would have to have a working widget manager, but both Vodafone and Opera offer one, and as far as I’ve been able to determine the operating system will actually recognise the Bluetoothed app as a widget and start up the appropriate program to install and run it.
(Incidentally, this sharing would mean the end of the current app-store-based monetisation scheme. Users would have to pay for the content, and not for the app itself. But I feel that’s going to happen anyway, so why not start now?)
The reverse is not yet possible. There is no easy way yet for consumers to send HTML5 apps via Bluetooth from an S60 or a Windows Mobile phone. It’s possible, but it’s a many-step process that will be unlikely to appeal to the average user.
But that’s fine, too. The cool new hPalm can do a trick that’s easy to eplain and show, and that no other phone can do. That’s differentiation, and it will serve hPalm well.
Success is not ensured, and it would be dangerous to try to build a marketing appeal based solely on this feature, especially since the HTML5 app ecosystem still needs at least two years to mature. Adding it to webOS wouldn’t hurt, though.
The operator problem is serious, but here, too, a web-based strategy might help.
I know for a fact that Vodafone is pouring significant resources into the web (for instance for hiring me to make sense of mobile browsers), and from time to time I hear things that might point to other operators being interested, too.
Operators are discovering the web, and hPalm is uniquely positioned to capitalise on that fact.
There’s no guaranteed win here, but a strictly web-based strategy certainly won’t hurt hPalm’s chances. Besides, they’ve already started on this road, and it’s better to continue to the logical conclusion than to backtrack.
Concluding, a further expansion of its web-based strategy will net hPalm a nice group of developers in the short run, and might even solve the consumer and operator problems in the long run, although success is not guaranteed here.
Since Palm has already been doing all of this anyway, no serious change of strategy is required. The developer relations team just needs some more support, and it needs to concentrate fully on converting existing web developers.
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