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WebOS heading for HP smartphones, tablets, printers

May 21, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

HP will use the Linux-based WebOS operating system it is acquiring from Palm for smartphones, tablets, and printers, but not in netbooks, say reports from HP's positive earnings call earlier this week. Meanwhile, AT&T has started selling the Palm Pre Plus and will start selling the WebOS-based Pixi Plus phone in June, says eWEEK.

In a conference call on May 18 to announce fiscal second-quarter 2010 results, HP President and CEO Mark Hurd said that while HP wants to grow Palm's smartphone business, he sees a broader role for WebOS. The statements were reported by Jeffrey Burt in our sister publication, eWEEK.

"We expect to leverage WebOS into a variety of form factors, including slates and Web-connected printers," Hurd was quoted as saying.

Since April 28, when HP announced intentions to acquire Palm for $1.2 billion, it was widely speculated that the computer giant was far more interested in using Palm's Linux-based WebOS operating system in tablets than in smartphones. In fact, one HP exec was quoted as saying that a HP Hurricane tablet running WebOS was due in the third quarter.

Hurricane confusion continues

Apparently, Hurd did not mention the Hurricane or the fate of the Windows-powered HP Slate, which has been rumored to be on the way out in favor of a WebOS-based tablet. In this week's comments, Hurd seemed to suggest that both WebOS and Windows-driven slate computers would ship this fall, although he was not entirely clear on the OS situation.

"Microsoft is probably one of the best relationships we've got in our company, and they're still extremely important to us," said Hurd.

Meanwhile, a DigiTimes story today quotes Monty Wong, VP of personal computing systems group at HP Taiwan, as saying that the HP Slate will hit the market before the end of the fiscal year ending in October.

While this could be interpreted as suggesting that the Windows-based Slate is on schedule, it is also possible the WebOS-based "Hurricane" will be marketed as the HP Slate, or that the tablet computer will come out in two versions. In fact, DigiTimes goes on to report that Wong said that consumers could expect to see a wide range of software and application support at launch for the HP Slate.

Wong also seemed to settle another HP/Palm bar bet, when he stated that HP will not offer WebOS-based netbooks. The reason: netbooks are more similar in functions with traditional computers, according to Wong.

HP stands behind Palm's smartphones as AT&T ships Pre Plus

While the HP statements help to clarify the fate of the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi, to some degree — they are not likely to be discontinued, at least not without replacements — Hurd's comments suggest that HP does not intend to make a large investment in the highly competitive smartphone business.

"[The proposed deal] isn't precisely a smartphone play, as I've seen some people write," Hurd was quoted as saying by eWEEK. "It is, for us, strategically broader." 

In its long history, the company has only flirted with the smartphone business via a variety of low-profile, Windows Mobile-based iPaq devices. While the Palm Pre got off to a fast start last summer, the first quarter Gartner smartphone report suggests that sales have slipped in recent months in the wake of Android's advance.

This week, however, Palm and HP got some good news on the Pre front, as AT&T made good on its promise to offer the Palm Pre Plus (pictured above right), the same updated version of the Pre introduced earlier this year by Verizon Wireless. AT&T began selling the phone on May 18, reports another eWEEK story. Meanwhile, a follow-up report says that the Pre's less-endowed sibling, the Palm Pre Plus, will also be offered by the network starting June 6.

Printers to get the WebOS treatment

A new, but not entirely surprising development is that HP plans to use WebOS in its mainstay printer business. After all, HP introduced a Linux-based multifunction inkjet printer last June called the HP Photosmart Premium (pictured below, left). This "world's first web-connected home printer" offers a 4.3-inch touchscreen, WiFi, and a web-enabled embedded Linux computer, plus a collection of printing apps that can be added to by third parties. 

At the earnings event, Hurd was quoted by eWEEK as saying, "It really has more to do with the intellectual property and the fact that when you look across the HP ecosystem of interconnected devices, it is a large family of devices and we think of printers, you've now got a whole series of Web-connected printers, and as they connect to the Web, [they] need an OS." Hurd was also said to have hinted that HP could use Palm's app store for the printers and other devices.

A Small Business Computing story covering the same event quotes Hurd as saying, "When we think of printers, you've now got a whole series of Web-connected printers that, as they connect to the Web, need an OS. We prefer to have that OS in our case to be our IP, where we can control the customer experience as we always have in the printing business, and that's a big deal to us."

As with the HP Photosmart Premium, HP is envisioning WebOS-based printers that can talk directly to the Internet, bypassing an intermediate PC. WebOS is likely a smaller footprint operating system that what HP is using now, helping to reduce costs and power consumption. It is also likely to be more web-savvy.

Small Business Computing says the WebOS printer concept was reinforced by Vyomesh "VJ" Joshi, EVP of HP's Imaging and Printing Group during a recent Reuters technology summit in San Francisco. A main focus was said to be the need to send smartphone images straight to a printer without the hassles of dealing with a PC intermediary. "A lot of images are trapped in smartphones," Joshi was quoted as saying.

HP will have competition from other smart printers running Linux or the Linux-based Android. In January, for example, Touch Revolution, began shipping the Android-driven Nimble NIM1000 touchscreen subsystem. The system is said to be designed for OEM "drop in" to microwave ovens, washing machines, and printers.

HP earnings reflect tech rebound

In HP's second-quarter earnings call, the company reported a strong quarter, with $2.2 billion in profits on $30.8 billion in revenue, representing a 28 percent jump in profit and 13 percent increase in revenue, reports eWEEK. By comparison, a year ago, the company earned $1.7 billion on $27.4 billion in revenues.

Revenue targets for the year have been upped to 8 to 9 percent over 2009, says the story. For the current quarter, HP is expecting revenue of between $29.7 billion and $30 billion.

HP's run of acquisitions may not yet be over, according to comments from one HP executive at the earnings call, says the story. Meanwhile, other recent acquisitions have not all proved to be profitable. At the earnings call, an analyst was said to have questioned the wisdom of HP's $13.9 billion acquisition of services company EDS, which is now recast as HP Enterprise Services. Hurd was said to have defended the unit's relatively slow sales, saying that services are key to HP's future.

Hurd also noted that HP's $2.7 billion deal for networking vendor 3Com, which closed on April 12, had added about $50 million in revenue to HP's bottom line in the quarter.

Sixteen companies vied for Palm

HP may have spent more for Palm that it had expected, suggests another eWEEK story. Citing an SEC proxy statement recently filed by Palm, the story says that some 16 companies expressed interest in acquiring the company. Six of those entered non-disclosure agreements and three gave Palm a serious run for its money, says the story. Although Palm wouldn't name names, HTC, Lenovo, Motorola, and Nokia had all been suggested as potential purchasers, says the story.


The eWEEK report on HP's earnings call may be found here, and a follow-up story today on the DigiTimes report which more strongly interprets Wong to say HP is moving forward with a Windows-powered Slate, may be found here. The DigiTimes story itself should be here.

The eWEEK story on AT&T selling the Palm Pre Plus may be found here, and the follow-up story on AT&T's Pixi plans should be here.

The Small Business Computing report on HP's WebOS printer ambitions should be here.

The eWEEK story on Palm's other corporate suitors may be found here.

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