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HP confirms it's back in the smartphone business

Palm's Jon Rubinstein weeps softly for what might have been

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A senior HP executive has confirmed that the company will make yet another foray into the smartphone sector, three years after wasting $1.3bn buying webOS and then shutting it down shortly afterwards.

"The answer is yes but I cannot give a timetable," Yam Su Yin, HP senior director of consumer PC and media tablets for Asia Pacific told The Indian Express in response to a question about smartphone plans. "It would be silly if we say no. HP has to be in the game."

El Reg hopes that Palm's Jon Rubinstein was in a room with softly padded walls when the comment was made, given his views on HP's smartphone mismanagement that were eloquently expressed last month.

Palm had hoped that the HP buyout would transfer the nifty webOS operating system to phones, tablets, and PCs, but instead it fell victim to management politics. The OS was eventually open sourced and sold off for its patent value to LG.

A lack of funds for Palm meant that the OS and the hardware it ran on couldn't be properly tested before launch, and lack of network operator support doomed Palm to ghetto status in retail storefronts. HP was supposed to change all that, with the short-lived TouchPad tablet and a plan to put the OS on all HP products, but management lost its nerve and folded the project.

Now it appears HP is back in the sector. Since webOS is off the cards for the company, one would assume that HP will go to Android as its mobile OS – although Firefox OS has promise. Windows Phone 8 might offer some tie-ins with HP's desktop portfolio, but if you're looking to make a splash in the smartphone arena it's better to use an OS people actually want to buy.

HP does however have a slight advantage in terms of hardware. Intel is making a lot of noise about its Atom processor as a future core for smartphones, and HP's volume business with Chipzilla means the two companies are used to doing business together and might be willing to do a deal to get the low-power processor out there.

All this could lead to some hefty incentives from Intel for HP to push out smartphones based on its silicon. As we've seen with WiMax and other mobile hardware Intel is willing to spend a lot up front to grow its market base for smartphone silicon.

Coming into the smartphone game so late could actually give HP an advantage, Yin argued. "Being late you have to create a different set of propositions. There are still things that can be done. It's not late. When HP has a smartphone, it will give a differentiated experience," he claimed.

That's as may be, but when you're going up against the likes of Samsung and Apple, you'll need every advantage you can get, and HP doesn't have anything to recommend itself in the smartphone sector so far. ®

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