HP-Palm acquisition could see WebOS devices in Australia by 2011

$US1.2 billion merger likely to spark up tablet, smartphone ventures from HP

HP's $US1.2 billion acquisition of the ailing Palm smartphone business will inevitably lead to WebOS-based devices officially reaching Australian shores by 2011, according to industry analysts.

Ovum analyst Nathan Burley said HP has "a brand and distribution here [in Australia]. You would expect that, depending on what they do with the devices and WebOS, that they would be seeking to leverage that distribution channel that they have here".

While it is difficult to ascertain how long the transition process will take, Burley said that typical product planning and development timing could mean the first devices are released in roughly a year.

What kind of devices are released, what operating system they use and how they are branded is still uncertain. According to Burley, the devices could boast dual HP-Palm branding in the same way the computing giant markets its low-end laptops under the Compaq brand.

More recent news that HP has dumped its competitor to the iPad - the Windows 7-toting Slate tablet - has also lead to speculation that the company is seeking to scale the Linux-based WebOS platform to larger devices like tablets and netbooks. The company's rumoured dissatisfaction with Windows 7 as a touch-oriented operating system could also have been a key motivator behind the Palm acquisition, whose flagship operating system was built specifically for touch.

Marketing intelligence firm ABI research suggested "HP has the opportunity to mold WebOS to its needs and its key customer segment, the enterprise. WebOS may become the “glue” that solidifies HP’s solutions for the mobile enterprise market — not just leveraging the loyalty from Palm's storied past, but building synergy with HP’s growing enterprise networking portfolio, as well as its wireless networking and even its services solutions".

This focus on the enterprise could include the smartphone market, one in which competitors Dell, Lenovo and ASUS have all begun to ramp up development and marketing. The company has in the past released PDAs and PDA phones using the Windows Mobile system, but is yet to register significant interest in competing with the likes of Apple's iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry devices.

"HP may eventually downplay its Windows Phone bets in favour of WebOS," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said. "The rationale for that is due to the fact that [Palm chief executive officer Jon] Rubenstein terminated the relationship with Microsoft while he was in control of Palm."

The WebOS platform will provide HP with a point of differentiation against manufacturers that use Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platforms, but analysts believe success in the smartphone market will impinge on operators deals and subsidies, both internationally and in the Australian market.

"One of the important things in Australia is the operator channels and device subsidies associated with that," Burley told Computerworld Australia. "They'd obviously like to do some sort of deal where they can get significant vine from the operators, but that will be difficult with the number of other devices and OEMs that are around.

"[HP] haven't had any high profile deals with the operators where you see large subsidies put on the devices, and as a result you sell significant volumes."

A spokesperson for HP said the company was "not yet at a stage to share product roadmaps," in an email. The company couldn't verify whether the Slate had been postponed or canned, or provide a local release schedule.

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