HP buying Palm is like Ke$ha marrying John McCain
Exactly, what do they have in common? HP-Palm is a merger of necessity. HP needs to jumpstart (for the umpteenth time) its mobile strategy and Palm needs to be bought by anybody or perhaps die. Hey, there is anybody and then there's anybody else would be better. In a parallel universe the situation is different. HP is doing what I said Microsoft should: Buy Palm, and what a steal HP is getting for $1.2 billion.
Perhaps I'm missing something about things in common. While I was writing this post, Walter Lounsbery tweeted to me: "HP and Palm both share that has-been entrepreneurial spirit." Ouch! Get the Neosporin! And a Band-Aid! Alex Scoble poured salt on the wound. In a response to me at FriendFeed: "They both sell mobile devices...just no one knows that HP sells mobile devices." Whoa, put away that baseball bat, Alex!
Adam Hall sees the glass as being half full (as opposed to my half-empty -- OK, nearly empty -- perspective). He tweeted: "Isn't it what Palm and HP don't have in common that makes this interesting? I see potential, but can they realize it?" HP must realize something to plunk down $1.2 billion. Hey, there is one more thing in common. Mark Kéy-Balchin tweeted: "Interestingly enough, the other thing they share in common is Tom Bradley, former CEO of Palm and current VP of HP's PC group."
When I think HP, enterprise comes to mind. When I think Palm -- at least its latest post-PDA life -- I think consumer. HP: Stodgy handheld/phone design reminiscent of my college roommate's first calculator. Can you say black and grey? Palm: Curvy, round smartphone that reminds of a Sephora make-up compact. HP: Builds the hardware, licenses the software from Microsoft. Palm: Delightfully designs hardware and software. Ultimately, I worry that craggy old business-oriented HP will suck all the vitality out of the fresh, new Palm -- at least as run (or run into the ground) -- by Jon Rubinstein. Think: lifeforce-sucking Wraiths from cancelled TV series Stargate Atlantis."
Yes, HP sells to consumers, and, I must admit, does a good job marketing to them. The Palm PDA once was an enterprise mainstay of 1990s business users. Maybe Hall is right and these differences mean something. Certainly they mean the end of Palm as everyone knows it. Look what happened when HP gobbled up Compaq, which was a huge brand at the time. Now Compaq is the name HP sticks on its cheapest-selling notebooks and keeps around because in some dark corner of the IT world there are people desperately clinging to the Compaq name. Say, it's the 21st Century, dude. You can let go and move on now.
It's not rocket science to see why HP would want a Palm merger. The smartphone market is so smoking everyone wants a whiff. Late last year, IDC rightly predicted that major PC manufacturers would move aggressively into the smartphone market this year. Well, Dell has cued up Flash, Smoke and Thunder -- names evocative of the smoking smartphone market and the PC manufacturer's determination to scorch it. HP has chosen to buy rather than build. The smartphone and other mobiles are destined to replace the PC as the dominate Web-connected device, by 2015, according to Morgan Stanley. I believe. Do you?
Anyone thinking HP can do much right by Palm should look no further than the waylaid Compaq brand, current HP PDA/phone lineup or disastrous iPod distribution deal. What? You don't remember that HP once sold iPod, right alongside Apple? Your memory answers just how badly it went (You can be sure Apple CEO Steve Jobs wishes everyone would forget that deal). I've read absolutely nothing about the HP-Palm shotgun merger other than the press release, so I wouldn't be influenced by anybody else's thinking. But I expect to read lots of punditry about how much Palm handsets and software will benefit from HP's huge retail channel. Oh, yeah? It did diddly squat for iPod. Apple had to build out its own channel.
HP is a great technology company, as is Palm. HP needs to jumpstart its handset strategy, and Palm needs a white knight. In fairytales, the princess must kiss a frog for him to become her prince, her white knight. In fairytale mergers, the princess' kiss turns one -- or both -- into a frog.
[Editor's Note: For closeted, out-of-touch geeks, here is the relief from your confusion. Ke$ha is a hugely successful, 23-year-old party-girl rock star. John McCain is a 73-year-old, war hero and US Senator who ran for president in 2008.]