Jul 10

What HP Should Do With Palm

It has been over year since Palm launched the Pre, and Palm has perpetually played catch up to its peers. From sparring with Apple over iTunes integration to using under-powered hardware to choosing Sprint as a launch partner, Palm bungled their shot at delivering a good phone to a broad audience.  But that’s the past, and now HP and Palm have an opportunity to reset and make Palm a worthy competitor in the mobile space.  HP should realize that it really only has one shot at this: if the next effort is not the greatest mobile device since sliced bread (or something pretty darn close), then they would have wasted their money.  So here are some thoughts on what HP should do:

1. Go for broke on the next Palm Pre’s specs. HP being HP, they are going to be too conservative to design a great smartphone. The Palm team must step up to build something that HP thinks everyone will say “you’re crazy to build this”, and then go one step beyond that.  Only by going for broke will people be willing to say Palm Pre in the same breath as Apple iPhone, HTC EVO, and Motorola DroidX.

2. Don’t build a tablet … yet. Sure, building a tablet is sexy, and the WebOS makes great sense as an OS.  But it’s distracting.  If you make a crappy smartphone, is anyone going to care about your tablet?  Even Apple decided to focus on the iPhone first, even though the iPad was its inspiration.  Build a great phone first, and keep the tablet in R&D mode to learn the lessons from the smartphone.

3. Create a compelling case to switch. Figure out the killer functionality and make sure that you’re the best experience to steal away customers.  You’re going to get the Palm fanboys (what’s left of them) – now figure out how you’ll steal away iPhone users and Blackberry users.  Maybe even steal the Kin’s idea (not the implementation) of being a social hub device that is connected to the cloud.  Or maybe not…

4. Buy mobile app developers to build exclusively for WebOS. Palm needs to prime the pump in the App Store. It might be worth buying a few studios to follow the Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft model of creating awesome first party games, while supporting third-party developers.  Sure, it might create weird competitive dynamics, but the applications are a critical part of the ecosystem to making WebOS successful.

5. Launch the halo phone on Verizon or AT&T. If HP really wants to use its money and muscle as a tech giant, it must launch this phone on Verizon or AT&T.  While their historical relationship made sense for Palm to launch on Sprint, it hobbled the Pre’s potential.  Launch on a big network – AT&T would love a crazy hot smartphone to compete with the iPhone if (when?) it launches on Verizon.

None of these are slam-dunks, but they are all do-able, especially with HP’s resources. The question is whether HP can enable Palm to win back a decent share of the market, or will HP just get in the way by treating it as another computer hardware acquisition.

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