Over the last decade, there are few companies Apple has been worried about. One is HP, which had the only product that had a chance of beating the early iPod, and the other was Palm, which had the best chance of beating the iPhone.
And now, Hewlett-Packard’s $1.2 billion purchase of Palm means several things–but the most important ones are not about phones. Palm and HP have both made runs at matching Apple in the past, and fallen flat on their faces. But the two companies’ combined resources might be just the secret sauce needed to stand tall beside Cupertino’s Goliath. HP's Palm Acquisition!
HP was tricked into giving up its potential iPod killer, and Palm’s execution was a train wreck. Now the two companies have agreed to merge with a common goal, HP won’t be tricked again, and Palm has the resources of a massive multinational to play with. Life will get a lot more interesting for both Apple and HP as the combined resources come into play around this time next year. However, we’ll see a near-term solution (likely Palm designed) by year end.
Todd Bradley, the executive in line to run HP (and who currently runs HP’s PC division), used to run Palm and knows that company well. He brought a number of ex-Palm and ex-Apple employees into HP. The result is that HP has consistently improved both the look and experiences associated with its products and the marketing that surrounds them, but remained ineffective with its phones.
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Palm lacked the resources to make another run at Apple, even though it corrected most of the initial problems with the Palm Pre rollout.
Both companies have a deep desire to beat Apple, because Apple has consistently made fools of both firms. This creates a common goal that should keep the resulting combined company focused. And HP doesn’t require the massive gross margins that Apple needs to survive given the firm and potential pricing advantage as well. If HP can engage Apple in a price war the same way it did with Dell, Apple would be at a severe disadvantage. But first they need a truly competitive product.
The two companies have to be brought together, and solutions driven into the market quickly to take full advantage of the combined resources. HP messed up the Voodoo acquisition, suggesting there is some risk that this might not go well, and Apple isn’t going to let HP come at them unchallenged. It will likely pull out all the stops in defense. In effect, both HP and Palm will have to admit their past mistakes, learn from them, and execute sharply to get this done. That’s not trivial, but HP has tablet and smartphone display technology in-house, an eBook reader, and a set of media management tools that are potentially unmatched in the market out of their lab. Along with the Palm IP, these tools could give them an incredible advantage, if they can execute. That “if” has proven to be a formidable barrier for anyone, including HP and Palm, when it comes to competing with Apple. We’ll see if they make it this time.