Hewlett Packard - better off without WebOS?

Providing servers and infrastructure for 1000s of businesses worldwide, HP has become a giant in IT provisioning, supplying hardware and consultants worldwide to companies and public service organizations that wished to profit from the digital revolution.

Yet in just a short space of time they’ve gone from industry giants to a major disaster area, contributing to the slow-down in PC sales and somehow failing to capitalise on their webOS platform and HP TouchPad tablet as a realistic, corporate-based alternative to the iPad.

How has it all gone so wrong?

This week figures of PC sales over the past 12 months reveal that overall the industry is slowing. This is in contrast to earlier figures that demonstrate that the PC hardware market is burgeoning. Both of these things are happening against the backdrop of tough times, so why the difference?

At this stage it isn’t clear, although it is most likely to be related to the fact that if sales are down, consumers are upgrading hardware components rather than entire systems. But what has this got to do with HP?

Astonishingly, their Q4 PC hardware sales are down around 25%. This cannot due to market forces or the threat of recession – more likely it is related to HP’s inability to forge a consistent path through the current economic climate. Twisting and turning on policy and direction for the company, customers have gone elsewhere, put off by the possibility of being unable to acquire long-term technical support and the actuality of a poor pricing strategy.

In amongst all of the pointless changes at the top, however, one good thing has come of their problems – the announcement that WebOS will be made (largely) open source. This could be a major move for both the company and the OS; the relationship always looked like the IT equivalent of Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes, a celebrity marriage that on paper appeared to work but somehow doesn’t look quite right. After all, HP had the chance to use WebOS as a corporate tablet platform, essentially preventing corporate take-up of the iPad.

Given their dominance in the enterprise marketplace, it seems incredulous that they messed that up.

Ultimately, the mobile and tablet operating system with a UI that makes Android look like a cheap iOS knock-off is severely under-appreciated by money men, and needs the strength of hobbyists to build it into a viable alternative to Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Let’s just hope that as an open source platform it can finally stay safe from corporate mismanagement.