Daniel Eran Dilger
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Daniel Eran Dilger

Here’s some choice examples of why you can’t believe everything companies or pundits proclaim about the prospects of their products.

HP webOS: Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion

Mark Hurd, then CEO HP, 2010: “We didn’t buy Palm to be in the smartphone business.”

HP PR team, immediately afterward: “When we look at the market, we see an array of interconnected devices, including tablets, printers, and of course, smartphones. We believe webOS can become the backbone for many of HP’s small form factor devices, and we expect to expand webOS’s footprint beyond just the smartphone market, all while leveraging our financial strength, scale, and global reach to grow in smartphones.”

Sometimes when companies say they are fully committed to something, it’s only because not saying that would be expensive. We have plenty of examples of firms who said they were behind something for the long haul, only to cut and run a few months later. HP tried hard to make its webOS strategy work, but trying hard is not always enough.

When your competitor is moving as fast as Apple has been, you don’t have time to show up to the party a year late and begin pushing out half finished hardware representing some interesting ideas.

HP was skating to the puck where it had been when it considered buying Palm last year. It did not appear to have a firm grasp on where the puck was headed, how fast it was headed there, and how expensive it would be for a big, old company to skate into position in front of it.

Interestingly, the HP TouchPad was on the market just hours longer than the short lived Microsoft KIN.

Palm Pre: The Emperor’s New Phone 2009
What will HP do with Palm’s webOS? Most likely: fail 2010
Can HP & Palm take on the iPhone? 2010
HP kills webOS, spins off PC business to focus on software 2011

Speaking of failure: Microsoft Zune, KIN, Windows Phone 7

Mike Elgan wrote in Computerworld last fall [2006] that Microsoft’s Zune “scares Apple to the core,” and announced that Microsoft would “leverage the collective power of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Soapbox (Microsoft’s new ‘YouTube killer’) and the Xbox 360” to push Zune adoption. At the time I observed, “What a celebration of half decade old decrepitude and three new but clearly dismal failures!”

I didn’t just hope the Zune would bomb, I spelled out why, over and over, like a play-by-play of the Hindenburg. A lot of PC enthusiasts wrote glowing things about Microsoft’s future prospects based on its past accomplishments in a very different competitive environment. Let me be the first to say that the success Apple has had with iPod, iPhone and iPad will stop abruptly as soon as the company stops doing what made it successful and starts doing things that make no sense.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, what made it successful in the 1990s was its ownership of a proprietary layer of middleware that enabled it to tax all the PC hardware being sold on Earth. It never laid out a convincing business plan showing how its Zune or Windows Mobile/Phone 7 was going to replicate such serendipity given that both would actually face competition in an open market.

Strike 3: Why Zune will Bomb this Winter 2006
Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing 2007
Zune Sales Still In the Toilet 2008
Will Nokia Rescue Microsoft’s Zune? Haha No 2008
From OLED to Tegra: Five Myths of the Zune HD 2009
Windows Phone 7: Microsoft’s third failed attempt to be Apple 2010
Zune 2: How Microsoft will slaughter Windows Phone 7 using Nokia 2011

I have exactly what you want, even if you want something else: RIM BlackBerry Playbook

People criticize decisions made at Apple to limit the scope and range of their products. However, it’s far worse to promise to be all things to everyone. RIM announced new versions of the PlayBook for basically every mobile standard that exists, but then couldn’t deliver them (or the market decided it didn’t want them). In contrast, Apple sold one model of GSM iPhone for a year, then a GSM-3G version for another nearly three years, very successfully.

Asked why the PlayBook was designed to be 7 inches, [RIM co-CEO] Mike Lazaridis replied, “it’s just the perfect size,” before also acknowledging, “we have plans for different sizes.”

RIM CEO offers unintelligible look at BlackBerry OS, PlayBook future 2010

Third time’s not the charm: Android 3.0 Honeycomb

And finally, a note to Google: When you copy somebody’s intellectual property, don’t also copy their failed business model.

Android hype vehicle set to crash in 2010 2010
Microsoft frets Google’s Nexus One will suffer Zune’s failure 2010
Major developer turns attention to Google’s Android 2010
Why Apple can’t be too worried about Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets taking away iPad sales: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 2011
Google’s acquisition of Motorola set to doom Android, Chrome OS 2011


1 nextguy { 08.19.11 at 10:07 am }

Some people, HP, can’t learn from the simple failures of Palm, as if, they haven’t been failing since PocketPC passed them over. I mean, really, HP’s been downhill for like 11 years.
Of course I haven’t declared judgment yet on the Google/Moto deal yet.

2 Maniac { 08.19.11 at 12:18 pm }

Microsoft’s business model:

1. Put a wrapper around Windows and sell it in a new form factor.

2. If the product is a total failure, cancel it. (E.g. KIN.)

3. If the product isn’t quite a total failure, subsidize it with money from Windows + Office.

3 gctwnl { 08.20.11 at 5:33 am }

With Android fragmented, under legal pressure and hurt by Google’s entry into hardware, WebOS most likely dead, Symbian EOL, Bada without a strong app ecosystem, BlackBerry without a strong app ecosystem and in trouble, the only competition left to iOS may finally be … Microsoft.

WebOS is probably dead. But there are a few firms that have failed at or have not yet moved to vertical integration and generally have a large weakness when it comes to the software side of integration: Sony, SonyEricsson and Intel. Amazon or Barnes&Noble might want to pick up WebOS as well to extend their book reader business into iPad territory while still running a decent eReader business. Nintendo might pick it up.

The problem with acquisitions, though, is: you can buy IP and maybe some people, but it does not change the DNA of your company. The HP/Palm deal shows that too. How Microsoft handled Danger: same thing.

One reason why the Apple/NeXT deal succeeded was that it did (partly) replace the core DNA of Apple, mostly by having Jobs there (and Apple/NeXT had a common origin, so they actually could more easily splice back together; this happens in nature as well). Now, NeXT and Jobs’ DNA has been replicated successfully inside Apple and Apple has become a new species from what it was before.

In the meantime, the situation is like this. Microsoft stubbornly limping on while most others in the race to catch up with Apple end up like corpses along the way. Just Microsoft’s stubbornness (which they showed earlier with xBox) might save the day for them. And they actually do try to develop and innovate now, even if it is something they have not shown much aptitude for in the past. If Android indeed goes in decline, it is Microsoft who will win 2nd place by default, it seems.

4 anon { 08.20.11 at 4:22 pm }


If HP is smart, they’ll license WebOS for a price undercutting WinMo and scoop up the manufacturer-rats as they flee the sinking Android ship.

As for Microsoft? Consumers have been receiving their mobile efforts as though they’re laced with flesh-eating bacteria. I don’t see MS providing credible competition against iOS anytime soon. Or, ever. Their deal with Nokia will more likely than not just kill off Nokia.

I think anybody else has a more realistic shot at 2nd place. Even by default.

5 gslusher { 08.21.11 at 1:42 am }


Why would any manufacturer pay HP for webOS licenses? Will HP continue to support webOS with updates, bug fixes, etc? In order to attract customers, they will have to attract developers, but, in order to attract developers, they have to have devices that are selling well (or bribe developers).

6 anon { 08.21.11 at 3:07 pm }


Because it isn’t an unsafe debacle of patent infringement and code theft like Android, and it hasn’t proven itself to be a failure as a licensed OS like WinMo. HP has yet to develop a reputation for brutally screwing its hardware partners, also. Google and Microsoft have.

Locking customers and developers into your platform is relatively simple, all you have to is make it so ubiquitous that there isn’t much choice. When Android hit the scene it basically became the OS running all smartphones not made by Apple overnight. So if you wanted a smartphone but you didn’t want, or more importantly *couldn’t get* an iPhone, your only “choice” was something with Android. That’s how it was able to grab marketshare as quickly as it did, which in turn spurred developer interest.

So if the manufacturers broke up with Google and switched to licensing WebOS overnight, it would work the same way as it did with Android, with WebOS becoming the defacto non-iPhone OS through ubiquity. It would quickly grab marketshare and spur developer interest in a fit of deja vu.

But wouldn’t they have to worry about loyal consumers sticking with Android? No, because outside of a few misguided GNU Linux geeks too blinded with ideoligical fervor to realize that Google is playing them like a dimestore harmonica, there *is no* consumer loyalty towards Google(witness the failure of everything Mountain View has ever tried to sell). The majority of Android users will switch to whatever OS the carriers and manufacturers plunk down in front of them. How they adopted Android is how they will abandon it.

Again, though, this whole WebOS scenario can only play out if HP is smart. And that’s a huuuuuuuuuuuge “if”.

7 jomi { 08.22.11 at 3:21 am }

A nice overview of the competitive landscape and their problems.

Also, I absolutely love the “Sparkle Motion”-quote. I think I’ll watch the movie again in the evening… :)

8 gus2000 { 08.22.11 at 7:31 am }

Daniel, I thought you were forgetting Seth Whinetroub and his “iPad = Reality Distortion” rant, but then I remembered that his prognostic track record is barely any better than the Enderle Group; debunking them is hardly even sporting anymore.

9 The Mad Hatter { 09.11.11 at 8:00 am }

The tablets that are on the market at present are vastly over priced. A $500.00 IPad is a valuable tool. A $600.00 Motorola Xoom is pretty useless.

When the competition can match the IPad’s specs and sell tablets for $300.00 then they will be able to compete. Not before.

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