Why putting WebOS on multiple HP devices is good

Starting next year, WebOS will run on pretty much every laptop or desktop HP ships. And that could be good news for consumers

Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker has made it clear: Starting next year, the company's WebOS mobile operating system will run on pretty much every laptop or desktop that HP ships. And that's good news for HP customers -- and end users in general -- who increasingly find themselves juggling more and more data across multiple computing devices.

In a Bloomberg interview this week, Apotheker revealed HP's ambitious plans for WebOS, which the company acquired when it bought phone maker Palm for $1.2 billion last year. As expected, HP has moved quickly to utilize WebOS, a well-reviewed mobile operating system that was partnered with so-so hardware during its Palm days. HP last month launched two new WebOS phones, the Pre 3 and Veer, and will soon ship its first WebOS-based TouchPad tablet.

But Apotheker's admission reveals a far more ambitious strategy for WebOS, one that copies a page from Apple's playbook by bringing hardware and software development in-house. HP's upcoming desktops and laptops will still run Microsoft Windows, of course, but the inclusion of WebOS will allow HP to capitalize on a growing trend: The fact that we're buying different gadgets to do different things. The era of the one-size-fits-all computing device is over.

"HP clearly sees a trend we've been talking about for some time now. The idea of multiple devices per person," says IDC computer analyst Tom Mainelli.

"For years the industry talked about hardware convergence but, in reality, devices continue to diverge. People have come to realize that they don't want one single device because while that device might do many things, it likely won't do any of them particularly well," writes Mainelli in an e-mail interview with PCWorld.

Devices That Talk to Each Other Easily?

HP is laying the groundwork to make all of its devices -- desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones -- talk to each other more easily. For instance, videos stored on your HP desktop could be instantly accessible on your HP tablet. And photos on your HP phone could be viewable on your HP notebook.

"The problem with owning multiple devices is that accessing your data gets complicated," Mainelli writes. "Are your photos on the phone? On the notebook hard drive? Desktop hard drive? We think that for hardware vendors (like HP) to be successful in an era of multiple devices per person, they need to start thinking about how they can make their devices talk to each other in smart ways."

WebOS, of course, is currently an also-ran in a mobile OS market increasingly dominated by Google Android and Apple iOS. HP badly needs software developers to write apps for its mobile OS, and the WebOS-everywhere strategy is designed to lure them in.

"By installing WebOS on future PCs, HP potentially grows the WebOS user base by orders of magnitude too great for developers to ignore," writes Mainelli.

For HP's customers base, the benefits of Apotheker's WebOS-everywhere strategy are clear. For the rest of us, HP's focus on smart, interconnected devices is good news because it'll spur other hardware manufacturers to adopt a similar strategy. Less balkanization among your tech gadgets is always a good thing.

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Tags HPPalmApplewebOSsoftwareoperating systemsHewlett-Packard

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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