HP's strategy to create an ecosystem of apps and devices around its WebOS platform gathered steam, as CEO Leo Apotheker announced that from 2012 every PC shipped out of HP will have WebOS installed in it, apart from Microsoft Windows.
Bloomberg reported that the thrust of the announcement is towards gaining developer mindshare around its WebOS platform. Currently, HP claims to have about 6,000 apps for WebOS.
Last month, HP released three key devices which run its WebOS. The devices include its flagship tablet TouchPad and smartphones Palm Pre 3 and HP Veer.
Apotheker wants to be behind HP's renaissance which he aspires to achieve through acquisition and by restoring innovation within the organization. He captured the loss of home-grown technology within HP in the words: HP has lost its soul. Apotheker's way to curb this erosion of soul is by applying brakes to cost-cutting measures rolled out by former HP CEO Mark Hurd, whose term saw some severe cost cuts, including 48,000 job cuts, 5 percent pay cut and decreased R&D spending.
However, Apotheker wants to continue his predecessor's acquisition spree. Under Hurd's regime HP spent $24.3 billion in acquisitions. Palm Inc., which HP acquired for $1.2 billion in 2010, was part of Hurd's acquisition strategy. Apotheker, however, wants to acquire companies with software strength to enhance HP's overall software prowess, unlike Hurd who had held an unfavorable disposition towards software.
Speaking about the need to create an ecosystem around WebOS, Apotheker told Bloomberg You create a massive platform. Currently, Apple's App Store boasts about 350,000 apps while Google's Android market has about 200,000 apps. HP is aspiring to achieve something similar for its platform by installing it in PCs which would give it the reach which it does not enjoy. The Register reported that HP shipped about 17.7 million PCs in the recent quarter. This is the number which HP aspires to capitalize on for its WebOS platform.
Reverse Apple Strategy:
Apotheker in an interview with BBC had said: I hope one day people will say 'this is as cool as HP,' not 'as cool as Apple.' HP is attempting to flip Apple's strategy, whereby Apple attempts to move its iOS users to its high-margin Mac OS X-based devices. Apple through its entry level products like iPod and iPhone gives users a taste of its ecosystem and then allows them to migrate to high-end products. Also, recently Apple released its Mac OS X Lion which imports a host of features like Launchpad and Full screen mode from iOS. Thus Apple is attempting to create a unified experience for users across its devices and OS platform, which makes transition from iOs device to Mac OS X device easier.
However, HP is going the other way by allowing users and developers to experience its OS in PCs in order to move them to its WebOS devices like TouchPad and Palm Pre 3. In a reverse application of Apple's strategy, HP is attempting to move users from high-margin products to lower-margin devices.
WebOS vs Microsoft Windows:
HP is not shunning its relationship with Microsoft in its attempt to gain mileage for webOS. However, running its platform alongside a seasoned player like Windows which already has a host of apps for desktops could dent HP's plans; as quality apps that can compete with Windows apps will have to be coded to attract users into opting for webOS over Windows on a desktop.
Also, desktop app experience is rather different from app experience on handheld devices. Handheld devices like tablets and smartphones rely heavily on touchscreen functions. Desktops are ill suited to replicate similar touchscreen functionality. Computerworld reported that Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaking about touch-screen interaction on desktop said that it's not ergonomic. Also most desktop applications are not built for touchscreen access. HP's strategy to offer such an experience to users on a PC is quite questionable.
Creation of app is also hardware driven as apps have to tap into the underlying resources of a device. A desktop boasts powerful specifications compared to tablets and PCs. HP's strategy to bundle webOS with Windows on PCs can limit developer's experience of creating apps, as tablets and PCs are entirely different environments.
WebOS App Strategy:
Steven McArthur, senior vice president of the consumer applications business for HP's Personal Systems Group, in an interview with Computerworld explained that HP will follow a two-part apps strategy. He said: If you tear apart the app stores of both Android and Apple, you find that a small majority of apps make up the vast majority of downloads, and you find a surprisingly large number of apps make up the filler. Based on this premise, HP wants to follow a strategy whereby it wants to focus on key apps like Facebook, Yelp and Skype. McArthur described a novel strategy whereby the Palm team will develop a top app and then open it to third-party app developers.
In an interview with Engadget, HP's Jon Rubinstein said: We need to continue doing what we're doing, and that's the key apps. We don't put a Skype app on it -- it's built into the phone app. When you get your Pre 2 on Verizon, it supports Skype in the phone app. when you fire up Verizon Skype calls on your Pre 2, you don't have a separate app -- you're in the phone.
HP's attempting to be the next Apple and its strategy to become so will also require it to back-up its developers with a web-based app store like Apple's and significant investment in cloud-computing to augment its smartphone and tablet services.