HP buys Palm: Global webOS joy or beige mediocrity?

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: April 28, 2010

I'm just out of a lunch meeting (wouldn't you like to know what we talked about?) when I get a text from Aaron: HP just bought Palm. My reaction is surprise, but my first actual thought is, "Oh yeah, of course. Never thought of it but that makes total sense."

HP has money, resources, distribution channels and global brand recognition when it comes to computers - desktops, laptops and netbooks. They also have a history of making entirely forgettable smartphones. 

Palm has ... well, you know what Palm has at this point. They've got a great mobile operating system, an awesome patent portfolio that may or may not actually exist, and not much else. 

And so they hook up. Of course they hook up. Suddenly HP has their own house brand mobile operating system that - as they're all too happy to tell you, again and again already - is "scalable." Scalable, of course, meaning, "Ready to kick some iPad/Google Tablet butt!" Suddenly HP has relevance in the smartphone and broader mobile tech scene. And suddenly - like Apple amongst others - they can create products, from concept to hardware to software, entirely in-house.

Palm? Well, suddenly they have a new lease on life and a partner/parent company with the muscle Palm always wished it had. Suddenly there's no reason why webOS devices can't get pushed out faster and with more reliably made hardware. Suddenly webOS has some leverage when it comes to release schedules and carrier partners for new devices. Suddenly Palm can make choices based on strategy and not survival instinct alone. 

And suddenly Palm + HP seems to = Tablet Computer. Tablet computer with slick, cards-based multitasking and 3D gaming support and nifty push notifications, and all kinds of other very un-iPad features. Tablet computer with audio powered by Beats by Dr. Dre, even.

And suddenly the idea of "Next-Gen webOS phones," is legit. HP didn't spend a billion plus dollars on Palm just to let their smartphone business die. Next-gen Pres and Pixis - or whatever they're going to be called - are sure to see the light of day now. No longer is it a matter of, "What could have been," but rather, "When and how much and where are the leaked photos and spec sheets?"

The cynic in me, of course, can only see an iPaq with webOS jammed into it. Picture it, a colorful OS running on the beigest of beige hardware. 

But the optimist in me sees new Palm devices designed in the new but iconic and evolving Palm tradition, but powered by Hummingbird-Snapdragon type processors that can really make webOS fly, and built on hardware that comes from a large-scale, deep-pocketed operation that knows how to do build quality and cost effectiveness. At the same time, even.

So we'll have to see. Judging from the conference call and press materials that went out today, HP plans to keep Palm and webOS alive in a major way. Words like "slate" and "netbook" and "scalable" keep getting batted by around hPalm execs like so many ping pong balls through the air, as well, so that whole webOS tablet computer thing seems like a surefire bet.

Only question now is can HP's buttoned down aesthetic and Palm's "everything is inspired by river stones" vibe learn to co-exist? Because as much as yesterday I hated the thought of something with so much potential as webOS dying an early death due to poor business and marketing execution, today I can't stand the thought of something even worse: A being of such colorful beauty doomed to a life of boring beige.