Let this be the post that finally breaks the silence. Also, disclaimer, this is all entirely based on my memory of events from months past, and some of the information in this article may not be accurate.
The recent news in the past few months has gotten me thinking about the state of progress in the mobile platform market. There has been much attention put onto the now-mainstream fight between Apple and Google, but it seems that beyond that, there hasn’t been much focus on the other major players in the battlefield. Those three players are Microsoft, RIM, and with their great acquisition of Palm and its WebOS, HP.
HP seem to be the best at innovation in this field. Last year, under Mark Hurd’s tenure, HP broke away from its partnerships with Microsoft and Google to use their respective mobile OSes when they decided to buy Palm and its own innovative webOS, an operating system that has received many accolades for its think-outside-the-box approach to common UI effects in mobile phones, from having notifications slide from the bottom to using cards as a visual representation for multitasking and switching to another application. Unfortunately, for all the praise it received, it hadn’t had much attention from consumers in the marketplace, resulting in low sales for a comeback Palm and an eventual acquisition offer from HP. What it did help to serve, though, was to give a way for HP to break free from the ‘oppressive chain of the OEM license,’ as I’d like to put it, and give the company a seed for regaining control over its own products and software, a move the company wisely decided to take when they announced version 3 of their newly-rebranded HP webOS in February, along with a new product line to serve it upon, and introducing a new tablet for it to compete in the tablet sector currently led by the iPad.
While I applaud HP for taking the initiative to reject the OEM method and embrace their own path, I do question some of their decisions that they announced at their press conference in February.
- Their line of webOS products looks to be diverse, but too diverse. I’m a bit wary of their choice to release a whole line and splinter it with customized options. I’d find it preferable for them to start out slow with their line, and not go out rushing in with too many product options that may confuse consumers.
- Release in the late summer. Not a good idea to release about a few weeks before Apple holds their annual fall iDevice conference. Also, by then, the hype for your product might have already died down.
- webOS for desktop computers. For obvious reasons, I think it’d be best to leave this field for Microsoft to claim and continue claiming, and focus more on more modern areas of development.
Overall, Apotheker, you’re doing one hell of a splendid job with your new direction for HP, and I hope you continue with whatever you’re doing right now over there.
Moving on, let’s just take a look at the sorry state of affairs at RIM and leave it at that. Ignoring the fact that there exists a dual-CEO partnership in the company (instantly a bad sign), their strategy is one that increasingly looking more and more unfocused by the minute. Consider their recent tablet released to compete against the iPad, the Blackberry Playbook. It supports (count ’em) 5 platforms for development: C/C++, HTML5 apps, an Adobe Air SDK specifically geared for tablets, Blackberry Java apps, and now Android 2.3 apps, for god’s sake. While diversity is usually favored by the market as a good thing, this much diversity makes it look out to be less great and more baffling.*
Don’t forget about the fact that you need a Blackberry tethered to the Playbook in order to do even something necessary like checking email. Already, RIM are establishing that this is a device ultimately meant for existing Blackberry users, and not meant as a device aimed gain new customers. The question is, will the existing Blackberry users follow and buy RIM’s new offering in the tablet sector?
Shockingly, the business sector, their most important base of revenue, have recently been switching to other platforms, with some of their IT departments going with the iPhone and others moving to Android. Maybe businesses have had enough of their dated offerings and have decided to take the bold step into other modern affairs.
Finally, we arrive at Microsoft’s strategy, and all we can do is either laugh or sigh at how badly their plan has taken them so far. Unlike RIM, Microsoft have billions, and thus lots of time, to throw at the problem, but like RIM, they are being pretty inefficient at actually fixing it. Their lack of getting any significant market share in the past 8 months since launch is telling. More importantly, though, are the problems within that actual small, insignificant share that they hold, most notably their unfulfilled promise of hassle-free software updates untied to the carrier. Not only have they seemingly given up on passing the carrier barrier, but the sheer amount of time between updates is enough to make a person wonder, “Are they actually supporting this damn thing?”
And yet, at the same time, we see the Windows Phone software department doing amazing things with the Metro UI, and making impressive work with interconnectivity with other Microsoft platforms, from Messenger to Xbox. But what success do they have to show for it, when their marketing department can’t seem to captivate their intended audience into buying their product? But then again, this is the same marketing department that didn’t want to use the Xbox name at all (See section 1999-2001: ‘ANYTHING BUT XBOX’) for the original console.
In short, HP looks to be making some good moves at the moment but the future of the webOS department depends on how well HP’s marketing department can connect with consumers. Microsoft needs to shape up their marketing and play on their strengths, lest they continually get ignored. And as for RIM… it’s been nice knowing you guys, but maybe you could get some kind of salvage deal in the next few months. (For all your recent woes, your tactile keyboards still rock.)
*Don’t forget. It also runs POSIX natively. (See quote at 4:32 P.M.)