HP's WebOS App Ecosystem Is "Uncertain," and That's a Good Thing

Published on February 7, 2011
by John Paczkowski

Hewlet-Packard CEO Léo Apotheker says he doesn’t think the company has been telling its story as well as it could have over the past few years. On Wednesday, he’ll have his first chance to begin retelling it when HP’s Palm division holds an invitation-only event in San Francisco, at which it’s expected to introduce its long-rumored webOS tablet. This will be our first look at HP’s new ecosystem–smartphones, connected devices, apps and the OS that ties them all together–and likely be the beginning of a slow untethering from Microsoft’s Windows OS. And if Palm has done it right, webOS could finally become a viable challenger to iOS and Android–particularly the latter, which has had a mixed reception in the tablet market. But that means coming to market with not just a compelling tablet OS and hardware, but a burgeoning applications and content ecosystem–something not easily achieved. As J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz wrote today, the ubiquity of HP’s related app ecosystem is uncertain. Whatever hardware the company rolls out on Wednesday needs to spur developers to embrace webOS. “Otherwise,” said Moskowitz, “there is risk that HP introduces a suitable device with a strong operating system, only to be deficient in attracting end users’ ‘eyeballs’ because of a weak applications and content ecosystem.”

The caveat here is that HP’s new tablet (or tablets) presents developers with an enormous opportunity precisely because its app ecosystem is uncertain. It’s going to be a lot easier to score a hit there than it is in Apple’s App Store, where developers must compete for users’ attention with hundreds of thousands of apps. And if you do score a hit there, it might even set the stage for you to translate that success to larger mobile platforms that are generally tougher to break into.

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