Palm users 'giddy' over HP's buyout

High hopes for WebOS's future; but plenty of concerns that 'unsexy' HP will fumble the Palm ball

Palm blogs and forums were flooded with mainly positive reactions to Wednesday's news that HP will buy the struggling smartphone maker, and aggressively exploit Palm's WebOS in a wider range of mobile products. But there's an undercurrent of skepticism, concern, and worry.

Users on Palm blogs were generally euphoric about Wednesday's announcement that HP will buy the struggling smartphone maker in a deal worth $1.2 billion. But there were skeptics, who offered cautions and raised concerns, ranging from HP's deftness in handling Palm's culture and talent, its close ties to Microsoft, and its overall weakness in the mobile market.

FAQ: HP buys Palm

On Palm's official blog, one user named Craig summed it up: "Palm phones = sexy; HP...not. Make the right choices, HP." 

A poll at PreCentral showed overwhelming support for the buyout: as of Thursday morning, 88% of voters said the deal was "awesome" and just 12% said it was a "bummer."

"This is the perfect match up," wrote OldSkoolVWLover. "HP can make a serious play into the smartphone market and ditch WiMo [Windows Mobile, which has been a mainstay of HP's iPaq line of handhelds]. Also, they can come out with a WebOS version of the [HP] Slate [a touch tablet running Windows 7 due out in mid-2010] and compete more directly with the iPad. HP also has an S-load of marketing dollars. Wow, I'm excited for what's to come."

Others think the deal will be a turning point in consumer perceptions of Palm and its webOS devices, which have failed so far to catch on. At PreCentral, blkscorpio wrote "I believe the greenlight for WebOS progression has just been signaled to the world, and developers will now flock to WebOS, with HP's name behind it….Those who were on the fence about Palm's existence before, and didn't buy a Pre or Pixi will certainly have no issues anymore."

The size of HP, and its pledge to expand spending for webOS and device R&D, as well as sales and marketing is seen by many as almost automatically translating into benefits.

"Deep-pocketed HP will grow muscles on the new kid WebOS, and immediately expand this platform through its well established hardware infrastructure," wrote gabvoice2, at PalmInfoCenter. "Good move indeed!"

So good that some users reveal high expectations for big, and fast, changes in product offerings. "I gave Palm till June 6th to announce a new bad ass 4G device (not the Pre Plus for Sprint)," writes jarobusa at PreCentral. "HP Deal closes in July. Palm should already have a new phone ready for manufacturing (C40? [A mystery Palm device that's been the source of rumors since last August]). There should be announcement between now and then…They will lose 70% of the people who bought on Sprint last summer if they don't rock our worlds. We love Palm, but we're more loyal to the tech."

A PalmInfoCenter poster who identified himself as "Fake Jeff Hawkins" (referring to a founder of the original Palm Computing and developer of the first Palm Pilot device), writes that "Palm absolutely needed to make a deal this quarter. They would have had to announce an utterly disastrous quarter in a couple of months and this would have taken all remaining wind out of their sails." Time is of the essence, he argues: "webOS is a means of differentiating products in an increasingly commoditized market. HP recognizes this and will hopefully invest the resources needed to QUICKLY develop and properly market webOS."

He listed a jaw-dropping product schedule: "Within 6 months, HP should release the following webOS devices:

1) HTC EVO-like (or better) smartphone in both CDMA and unlocked GSM flavors

2) Centro 2-like smartphone with 1GHz Snapdragon in both CDMA and unlocked GSM flavors

3) Mini tablet-convertible netbook in Foleo form factor that can automatically and intelligently sync all data between a corresponding webOS smartphone +/- cloud-based data."

Some especially enthusiastic users are already predicting the combined companies will, yes, "kill" not only the iPhone but the iPad. At PreCentral, DDT1345 created a haiku-like summary:

"HP Slab/Portrait Qwerty Smartphone With webOS = Death Of iPhone.

HP Slate 2 With webOS = Death Of iPad.

HP + Palm(webOS) > Apple

Who's with me Guys?!"

To many, HP's move signals the end of its reliance on the older Windows Mobile device operating system, and throws into doubt whether HP will embrace the recently unveiled Windows Phone 7, a radical redesign of Microsoft's mobile user interface.

"Brilliant 'rook across the chessboard' move," writes CRreymarc at PalmInfoCenter. "Windows Mobile is lacking and HP wants into smartphones big. With the webOS they have a lot more control over their OS than from Redmond."

But many also expressed a range of concerns over the acquisition.

LiveFaith, as PalmInfoCenter, worried about whether "Palm [will] now become the next Compaq. Will HP work the same magic on the Pre that they did on the mighty iPaq? Please ... may it never be. I hope they learned from the last destruction of IP [intellectual property]."

Another blogger, at PreCentral, expressed hope that HP's improved hardware quality will help the Palm line: "That is something WebOS desperately needs," writes qitupx.

On the same thread, Vaipa expressed concern that "HP might interfere too much and Palm might lose their small company responsiveness and drive….Will Palm be able to retain their Silicon Valley startup feel?) and/or HP might lose interest or have conflicted interests (HP did let their iPaq line rot and they do have a strong partnership with Microsoft so they could sell out webOS in mobile if their PC business interests were at risk)."

DavidVogt wrote on PreCentral that "As a premature migrant from the HP Ipaq 910 to the pre (I had my Ipaq 910 replaced 10 times under warranty before managing to get a refund -- which wouldn't have happened except I knew someone "high up" in HP) I sure as hell hope that a) Palm is allowed to continue its customer support and not have it absorbed into HP's bare into the bones incredibly poor customer support b) that those that complain about Palm's hardware will not be further disgusted by HP's hardware quality… However, knowing what [HP CEO] Mark Hurd's priorities are (buy, integrate, cut, cut and more cut), I do not have much confidence."

Some think Palm is doomed; they just disagree about how quickly it will expire. At the "Don't pop the champagne just yet" thread on the PreCentral forums, sinsin07, alluding to the fate of computer maker Compaq after it was acquired by HP, writes, "I worked on tons of Compaq machines. Was sad to see them gobbled up by HP. I give Palm two years and then it will be just a footnote in history." Another, bmatlosz, is even bleaker: "I think that's generous.... I say less than a year, six months."

Another poster, who identified himself as a former HP employee in the post-Compaq period, says in the same thread that those perceptions are out of date. "I used to work for HP during the Compaq acquisition by Carly [Fiorina, HP's CEO from 1999-05]," writes navinag. "I truly believe that Mark Hurd has turned that company around and has genuine intentions of getting back into the mobile space and being competitive….HP definitely has the capability and pockets to support Palm and webos will be a differentiator in the market for HP. Now...it is about execution and the existing Palm team staying focused."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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