HP: We Need to Get Back into the Mobile Business -- Oy!

If you want to see a case study in poor management at a major company look no farther than Hewlett Packard. Once an exemplar of high-quality corporate culture and employee satisfaction the company is a mess. The catalog of mistakes is long. Among them the purchase, fumbling and effective shuttering of the PalmOS.

Late last week current HP CEO Meg Whitman said that the company has to get into the smartphone business -- or more precisely back into it -- because that's where the growth is in the computing market. 

If you recall, HP bought the PalmOS for $1.2 billion under former CEO Mark Hurd who was pushed out for falsifying expense reports among other ethics violations. Hurd had big plans for PalmOS but his ouster scuttled them. 

When the acquisition was announced in April, 2010 I wrote the following: 

It's a good outcome because HP needs to have a mobile strategy and it gives Palm and the WebOS a way to continue. Chief HP rival Dell is very clear on the critical role of mobile and portable Internet devices in its future and is rolling out numerous Android and WinMo handsets later this year. 

Lenovo was also taking a look at Palm and will itself be moving more aggressively into mobile. 

Given HP's financial clout and resources WebOS could emerge as a reasonably strong competitor -- perhaps most directly to RIM -- in the coming months and years, especially with new form factors. And that probably includes a WebOS-based tablet.

Obviously none of that happened. As a kind of salvage maneuver, HP decided to open-source WebOS but hasn't done a very good job of rolling that out. 

Had the Palm assets been better managed HP might have a viable smartphone right now and/or be offering a open-source alternative to Android. But those outcomes would have taken vision and execution, neither of which HP seems to have. 

It's quite unlikely that HP can make an Android phone that will effectively compete against Samsung and HTC. It might be able to make Android tablets but it won't be able to make them very profitably given the price competition now in the market. So while there's plenty of growth in mobile (smartphones, tablets) it's unlikely to be an area of strength or profit for HP.