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HP/Palm: What could this mean for unified communications?

They say things happen in threes, so let’s try the Hewlett-Packard edition of this association game: Colubris, 3Com… Palm?


Those three letters probably sum up most of the IT world’s reaction to HP’s announcement it will buy the flailing Palm Inc. for $1 billion in cash. Although there’s been plenty of pontificating about what the Palm merger means for the smartphone market, I’m not seeing much of a forest through the trees.

Where does this piece fit in the puzzle? What does it mean for everyone who’s not a mobile device manager, mobile app developer or garden variety Palm customer? What about telephony, collaboration and networking professionals? I’m not going to pretend I have the answer, but here’s some food for thought:

Remember when Cisco bought the makers of the Flip camera around this time last year? Everyone sneered at it as a distraction from Cisco’s networking heritage or as a sleazy play into the consumer market (not even Jack Bauer can escape the Cisco marketing machine). But then we started hearing about visual networking from Cisco. A few months later at their partner summit in Boston, Cisco CEO John Chambers demonstrated how the Flip could be used to transmit video via Telepresence. Ta-da — collaboration.

Can HP tap a similar vein with Palm smartphones and its webOS? We see them as standalone devices today, but how will it all work in concert with its networking gear? Or its Halo telepresence systems? Is this a step forward for mobile UC? Or am I making a blog out of a molehill? I called HP’s press office to find someone who could shed some insight, but they’re mum on the details about how these devices and platforms will fit into a broader communications strategy (assuming there is one).

There were a few hints in the webcast HP execs gave investors about the Palm buyout earlier this week.

From Jim Burns, vice president of investor relations:

“We are going to leverage our scale to improve certainly the cost structure of the products,
given the procurement leverage that we have, etc., and the scale advantages we have. We also see growth synergies with the business, too. At the same time, we are going to be, as Todd mentioned earlier, putting more investments into the business, too.”

Then from Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP’s Personal Systems Group (emphasis added):

“This market presents a significant opportunity for profitable growth. The smartphone market
alone is over $100 billion and growing over 20%. We see further opportunities beyond smart phones into additional connected mobile form factors. We anticipate that with the webOS we will be able to aggressively deploy an integrated platform that will allow HP to own the entire customer experience, to effectively nurture and grow the developer community, and to provide a rich, valued experience for our customers.”

Finally, Forrester’s Tim Sheedy spells out what the HP/Palm buyout means for CIOs, but it’s a message that’s still relevant to other parts of IT and communications teams, too:

HP already provides a fair chunk of many companies’ ICT hardware and IT services requirements (and a growing % of their IT management software). This move means that HP will be better positioned to become a “one stop shop” for more of your ICT requirements. It also may finally convince many organizations to take their enterprise mobility strategies more seriously, as you will be able to acquire and manage the solutions in the same way as you do your PCs, servers, printers and other hardware. Having complete control of the product lifecycle, and a single point of support will be appealing to many firms, although there are still large pieces missing from the enterprise story (how the devices are managed, monitored etc?).

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