WebOS to ship with every HP computer starting next year

Move designed to spur app development, offer customers an option besides Windows

In a bid to kickstart development of applications for its mobile operating system, Hewlett-Packard beginning next year will include WebOS alongside Microsoft Windows in every computer it ships, according to HP chief executive Leo Apotheker. (Also see: Apotheker era off to inauspicious start at HP) From BusinessWeek: The move is aimed at enticing software developers to create a wider range of applications that would differentiate HP PCs, printers, tablets and phones from those sold by rivals. Programmers have built more than 350,000 apps for devices made by Apple Inc. and more than 250,000 for Google Inc.’s Android Market. WebOS has 6,000 apps, according to HP. Obviously, that won't do. To compete in today's mobile environment, you need a lot more than Angry Birds plus 5,999 other apps. And to become competitive with Apple and Google, Apotheker tells BusinessWeek, "you create a massive platform." HP inherited the WebOS mobile operating system when it purchased Palm last year. While it was developed for smartphones, WebOS figures heavily in HP's tablet plans and also can run on a PC. This seems like a pretty shrewd move, and that's coming from someone who has been skeptical of Apotheker's ability to move shrewdly. It's been more than four months since the former SAP co-CEO took over at HP, and we've yet to hear about any major, specific strategic directions. Consequently, shares of HP (NYSE: HPQ) are pretty much where they were when Apotheker started his new job last Nov. 1, trading in the low 40s. A decent price increase that pushed shares close to 50 last month unraveled on Feb. 22 when HP announced disappointing fiscal first-quarter results and an equally disappointing revenue forecast for the rest of the year (see link above). Apotheker reportedly is supposed to lay out a specific vision for HP on March 14. If the WebOS announcement is a hint of what's to come, Apotheker may yet silence his doubters. Of course, vision is one thing; execution is another. We'll have to wait and see what next Monday and next year bring. Still, if there's one place where HP has revenue-growth potential, it's software, which accounts for slightly more than 2 percent of the company's sales. It's never been HP's focus -- Brian Marshall, an analyst at Gleacher & Co. told BusinessWeek that software is HP's "Achilles' heel." Can that change under Apotheker? He does come from a software background, which undoubtedly raised eyebrows when he was chosen to replace Mark Hurd as CEO of a hardware company. And Apotheker says HP probably will buy more software companies similar to data-analysis firm Vertica, which HP acquired last month.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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