But HTC's position as a valued-added arms dealer, offering Windows and Android phones that sometimes had its elegant Sense UI overlay, would be threatened if it bought Palm and ended up competing with its two existing mobile OS partners. It likely was too big of a risk to switch to WebOS, whose market share is tiny and whose OS needs a home-run upgrade to distinguish itself, much as Windows Phone 7 appears it will do when it replaces the tired Windows Mobile. And I just can't see Nokia taking a risk or moving at anything other than a glacial pace; it's a dinosaur of a company, big and slow, and it hasn't yet realized the iPhone was the asteroid that will end its world.
HP might finally get to drive
So why HP? There are several reasons. One is a defensive reaction to archrival Dell, which will soon ship Android-based tablets and smarphones. But HP could have played that defensive game by offering Windows Phone 7 devices or even Android devices. Product category checked off!
Another could be nostalgia. A decade ago, the Windows Mobile-based HP iPaq was the cat's meow for road warriors, the handheld that any ambitious executive just had to have. After a year or so of celebrity, it faded away, along with HP's mobile presence.
The bigger reason, I believe, is HP's aspirations to be more than a commodity seller. Let's get real: Its primary business and revenue source is selling ink at per-ounce prices higher than gold. It's also the top seller of PCs, but those are largely designed by Intel and Taiwanese OEMs, so HP's PC fate is ultimately in their hands. Like everyone else, it's made increasing moves to get into the professional services business and the cloud business. Mobile is its big black hole in offering high-volume products to businesses and consumers alike -- and, outside of ink, its only realistic chance of not refining someone else's technology.
For the last couple years, HP has had an odd obsession with touch-based computing, creating its own UI overlay for Windows 7 to make touchscreen PCs work decently. The problem is that the Windows UI isn't designed for touch, so it's awkward to use. HP recognized that and tried to create its own innovation -- much like HTC has done with Android and Windows Mobile by providing the Sense UI -- while also pushing app developers to create touch-specific applications for kiosk and other uses where "regular," touch-unfriendly Windows apps never appear. The forthcoming Windows 7-based HP Slate is a great example of HP's ambitions with touch.