He would only talk in generalities, such as the need for centralized management in deploying and supporting thousands of WebOS devices, or the value in leveraging software quality assurance capabilities for WebOS development. He declined to be specific about upcoming products or their availability, but insisted HP is committed to this course. "We are dead set on turning those into reality, really fast," he says.
Only Microsoft is in a similar position to integrate a mobile platform, in this case Windows Phone 7, with an extensive, existing corporate IT infrastructure. Neither Apple nor Google, by contrast, have presence in the back end of the corporate network, though some of that is changing as back end services migrate to a mix of public and private clouds. And both rely heavily on Exchange ActiveSync and third-party device management software for security and management features.
"No major business wakes up one day and says, 'We want a bunch of tablets,'" Gee says. "Instead, they're asking, 'How do I extend an existing legacy infrastructure to a mobile workforce and mobile customers?' You have to look at WebOS in the context of modernizing an existing [IT] infrastructure."
That modernization trend includes storage virtualization and network threat analysis and management. Last year, HP invested heavily in both these areas by buying 3PAR, a storage utility vendor, and ArcSight, which offers security event monitoring, analysis and correlation to detect threats or compliance violations. "It's logical to assume that technologies from 3PAR and ArcSight will be closely integrated into WebOS, and customized for the specific requirements of HP's clients," says Mykola Golovko, an analyst with Euromonitor International, a U.K.-based global market research company.
One person willing to test Gee's claim that the TouchPad is enterprise-ready is James Gordon, vice president of Needham Bank in Needham, Mass. He's on a list to get one of the new tablets for evaluation. "We're supporting the 'consumerization' of IT," he says. "I want to make sure that our mobile projects are as technologically agnostic as possible. And I want to gauge the security of these [new] platforms. I have real reservations about [Google] Android every time I read about it."
The community bank has about $1.1 billion in assets, five branches, and about 95 employees. Half of them, up from a quarter just six months ago, and most recently the board of directors, are equipped with mobile devices running Apple's iOS: about 30 iPhones and 20 iPads.
Gordon says he likes the fact that the TouchPad's firmware is WebOS 3.0 and not 1.0. It's the latest version of the OS first released on Palm smartphones two years ago. He's also intrigued by HP's plans to bring WebOS to a wide range of new and existing products, a plan he calls "reasonably brilliant."
"A lot of their devices and netbooks have a 'prelaunch' mode," he says. "If you just want to play a DVD or take a picture or surf the Web, you can do it without having to run the full Windows OS. But it's ugly. As they replace this prelaunch with WebOS, it will be a game-changer. When users realize they can go into WebOS and have five times the battery life and six times the performance of Windows, they'll have an epiphany."