Failure of HP’s mobile (web)OS: I saw it coming and I told you so

It’s funny (in a sad way) how the future can be so drastically affected by the past.  Yesterday’s incident of the demise of webOS and HP’s mobile division did not come as a surprise to me (though the announcement of the potential consideration of breaking off their PC division did) because it almost took the “cause and effects” right out of my mouth in an article I wrote 16 months ago here on HP Fansite.

Back then, HP was pretty much minding its own business and Palm wasn’t up for sale yet. Microsoft had just done away with Windows Mobile and was trying to create a fresh start with their Windows Phone 7 platform, on which they included HP as one of the planned phone makers. I remember I was jumping for joy, having been a long time user of HP iPAQ phones for a long time (I was on my fourth iPAQ model, the Data Messenger, during then) and Windows Phone, I mentioned, would be a great chance and window of opportunity for HP to rise again in the smartphone market.

Microsoft and HP had had a lot going on at that time and I wrote about how HP absolutely needed to stick to Windows on their phones, instead of joining the Android gang or coming up with their own OS (which they essentially did later on by buying Palm and making webOS “theirs”), for so many reasons. The most they could do was try to get Microsoft to make an exception and allow them to ‘skin’ (have a theme of their own) Windows Phone 7… but I knew HP managing their own OS would be biting off more than they could chew and was against that idea.

Yup, I said it all and pretty much saw this coming. HP did all those things, things they shouldn’t have done. I didn’t have any insider information at all (heck, Palm wasn’t even up for sale during then!) but I wasn’t guessing either – I looked at the way HP had been doing things and their performance – and an analysis of that in my mind told me no way, with their computers, printers, workstations and operations in general combined with “the HP way” of doing things, could they manage having an OS of their own.

And to add to the bag of hurt, HP backed out of Microsoft’s list of potential Windows Phone 7 smartphone makers (instead of making Pre and Pixi ‘webOS phones’ alongside iPAQ ‘Windows phones’) and back to that article I wrote last year, I did say “it’s not how well features sell, but how well you sell your features“. In the case of webOS, HP didn’t manage to sell their features to consumers very well at all.

  • To name some examples, they didn’t elaborate what “true multitasking” meant and why consumers needed it (Versus Apple’s and Microsoft’s app-pausing multitasking)…
  • they had “Just Type” which was counter-natural for many (because most folks KNOW what they’re going to do, hit the correct app for email/browsing/texting/notes/etc before typing stuff out; Just Type tried to sell “typing stuff out before you know what you’re doing”, which isn’t practical unless you’re an artist of sorts who always has “spur of the moment ideas”)…
  • and then they had Russell Brand try to promote the HP TouchPad in spots that I saw as ‘trying to appeal to the serious user’. If they had used someone like Leonardo Dicaprio or George Clooney for that, it MIGHT have worked better. But anyone would know that Russell Brand =/= Serious user…
  • plus, they seem to have forgotten Marketing 101 and I didn’t see much effort in trying to promote webOS devices to women! And just an observation, majority of iPad users I see are mostly females… college girls who want something thin and light for taking notes, mothers who get it as entertainment devices for their kids (drawing and sketching apps and whatnot). Not to sound feminist here, but just a couple of facts: there are more women than men in the world and in today’s world where women are getting just as tech savvy as their female counterparts, one would expect companies to market their stuff to both genders

Again, I encourage you to read what I wrote last year and by the end of it, you might just think ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like he had a crystal ball or time travel machine or something’. Nope, I have none of that: just sense and skill of analyzing things.

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  1. tux. August 19, 2011 Reply

    I actually wonder why HP totally surrenders. Apple -might- be stronger in consumer market, but HP was never about cheap consumer products, right?

  2. Jason September 2, 2011 Reply

    It’s not complicated to understand the changes at HP. Mark Hurd was a genius. The new CEO, Léo Apotheker is not. The HP board were idiots for overlooking the minor peccadillo Hurd had.

    The new CEO is trying the same failed strategy he tried at SAP. He is not an American and thus fails to understand the reputation and tradition that HP has both in silicon valley and elsewhere. In the consumer space branding and identity matter.

    He will not be able to clone the transition that IBM made away from consumer markets.

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