“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” — Mark Twain

Image source: Engadget

$1.2 billion dollars! In physical terms, if you had that number of one dollar bills and laid them end-to-end, you’d circumnavigate the earth over 4.5 times. So seems like a lot of money, right?

Not if you talk to our VC. He’s the kind of guy who ran corporate acquisitions at Microsoft and Google. He can even tell you how high Google was willing to up its offer in the YouTube acquisition or how Ballmer bases his acquisition decisions on one slide in a preso of hundreds. In his world, everything starts to look like Monopoly money.

So when I suggested that Palm/WebOS are relevant again now that it has the resources of HP behind it, he dismissed the whole deal as pocket change for HP. I swear I heard him jingling the coins in his pocket when he said it…

Personally, I’m more optimistic about Palm’s chances. And it’s not just because there’s a certain elegance to the WebOS interface. It’s because Palm’s the only company besides Apple that knows how to seamlessly integrate software and hardware.

For example, Palm has the technology to enable iTunes-like desktop-based syncing and backup. It’s difficult to get right, but it’s a critical (yet often overlooked) factor in preventing customer defections and keeping them loyal to next-generation products. Palm’s been doing this longer than anyone else (popularizing the whole concept with HotSync), so playing catch up to Apple isn’t a stretch.

Palm also controls both the software and the hardware, so they could create consistency in their product lineup. No more second guessing what screen size to make assets for, how to optimize texture usage in OpenGL-ES, or whether end users have an OS upgrade path. It also means they are in a position to provide development tools like on-device debugging and profiling (that actually work). These considerations may seem trivial, but as any seasoned mobile developer will tell you, it’s what sets iPhone development apart.

In contrast, device diversity is what made developing on Symbian-based Nokia devices tremendously painful. The screen sizes varied; the device capabilities differed; and the OS versions diverged. On Android, we’re starting to see similar warning signs that are making Android app development an increasingly expensive proposition for developers.

In all these respects, Palm could challenge Apple in ways that Google and others cannot. And with HP behind them, they’re not just relevant; they could beat Apple at its own game.

Obviously, there’s still the open question of whether they can execute, not to mention overcome regulatory approval and avoid cultural clashes, but what’s interesting to note is that among all the challengers out there, Palm/HP has the most potential.

Ironically, just a few weeks ago before the whole HP deal was announced, WebOS seemed doomed. It just goes to show how quickly things change. It was only a decade ago when many were predicting Apple’s demise only to seem foolish five years later. And it was only five years ago when the web without Adobe Flash seemed unfathomable. Now if that much changed in five years, anything can happen in the next five!

  1. I agree thoroughly … once you control and own the hardware and software, you’re a force to be reckoned with.

    Microsoft seems to be the game still, also, despite having one out of two pieces … still a sleeping giant, but I’m sure they’ll have something compelling when they pounce later this year. Their user experience seems very cool from what I’ve seen of early builds.

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