Can HP make WebOS relevant?

Hewlett-Packard on Feb. 9 is widely expected to debut webOS tablets and a new Pre smartphone. The big question is whether HP can make webOS relevant to developers and consumers.

Hewlett-Packard on Feb. 9 is widely expected to debut webOS tablets and a new Pre smartphone. The big question is whether HP can make webOS relevant to developers and consumers.

According to analysts, HP's webOS has a tough climb ahead. Among the challenges:

  • Carriers already support four major mobile OS platforms---Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Window Phone 7 and Research in Motion's BlackBerry platform. Are carriers really going to rally around the webOS?
  • WebOS lacks the developer support of iOS and Android.
  • Consumers are likely to be iffy on the webOS due to lack of exposure (except for people that bought the Palm Pre).
  • It's unlikely that HP will be able to undercut Apple on tablet pricing.

Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore highlights the webOS challenge:

We believe HP has an enormous mountain to climb in terms of closing the gap behind Apple iOS and Android and becoming a relevant platform. As highlighted below, Apple and Google have an enormous competitive advantage in terms of developer support, number of available Apps on the platform, App and Developer revenues and downloads. Further, pricing of HP’s hardware will be of paramount importance as HP walks the fine line between profitability vs. share as its need to gain a foothold in the fast growing tablet market, yet lacks Apple’s scale in ARM and NAND (we think HP needs to undercut Apple on price). In addition, major carriers like AT&T and Verizon are already supporting up to 4 smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Windows 7 & RIMM). Is there really room for a 5th mobile OS platform in carriers’ Advertising, Service and Support budgets?

Graphically, the webOS challenge looks like this:

Indeed, there are a bevy of challenges for the webOS. Look for HP to exert its scale to offer competitive pricing. It's unclear whether HP has the will to undercut on pricing in the name of market share.  Can the webOS be cutting edge again?

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