WebOS also lacks the device management capabilities that any enterprise will insist on. The absense of such capabilities has hobbled the iPhone's acceptance, despite the enormous demand by employees to use it. HP would be kidding itself if it thinks it can do better in the enterprise than the iPhone without such capabilities -- especially now that Apple's iOS 4 has finally added them. A new WebOS version is due by 2011, so that's HP's chance to bring the core OS up to enterprise class.
On the device side, the Palm Pre is a so-so handheld, with a so-so screen and no physical keyboard option for the many users who dislike touch keyboards. HP would need to offer both higher-quality models and variants to accommodate both the touch and physical keyboard camps.
Beyond an enterprise-grade platform, WebOS lacks an inventory of business applications available from third parties, though that's partly a chicken-and-egg issue given the small number of WebOS devices actually in use. And even the hypersuccessful iPhone has few true business applications -- perhaps 500 or so, based on InfoWorld's review of the App Store (and of those, we found fewer than 300 to be useful enough to be listed in our business iPhone app finder tool).
The attraction for HP in pushing WebOS into the corporate space is clear: First, there's much less competition right now, as the only legitimate options are the BlackBerry and the iPhone (Windows Mobile is essentially dead, and Windows Phone 7 can't possibly succeed given how outdated the new OS is proving to be). Second, HP's relationship with businesses gives it a leg up on consumer-oriented rivals such as HTC and Apple when approaching corporate buyers. Unless Research in Motion's forthcoming BlackBerry 6 OS finally pulls the BlackBerry into the present, there'll be a big hole to fill in the corporate smartphone market.
But HP has a lot of work to do with the WebOS and the Palm Pre device before it can try to fill that gap.
This article, "Can WebOS have a new life in business?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.