Not one, but TWO revolutions in one week. Yes, denizens of Planet-Tech, within one week we have seen one of the largest software companies in the world enter the hardware business, and one of the world's number one hardware companies get out of a huge chunk of theirs. I am of course talking about Google acquiring Motorola's mobile phone business, and Hewlett-Packard getting out of the tablet and cellphone business (and, who knows, maybe even out of the PC business altogether ) and taking the IBM-approach of software-services instead.
The Google decision must not have been an easy one. They had had no intention of getting into the phone manufacturing business, that is for sure. On top of that they will now have to do something they had foresworn years ago: provide telephone customer service. The patent debacle of the last few weeks pushed them into an impossible situation and really left them no choice. Their entire Android business was in danger of collapsing if they didn’t act quickly and got their hands on some intellectual property they could call their own. Having missed out on history’s largest sales of patents, they turned towards Motorola and made the deal that will force them to forever change the way they have been operating. They may even have to start paying attention to “design” from now on. We all love our Google products, that is for sure, but none of us are bowled over by their “pretty lines” or their industrial design. Google will be forced to “think different”(ly) from now on. It won’t all just be about functionality anymore.
The HP story actually makes me a little sad. As big a fan of iOS products as I am, I was kind of looking forward to getting my hands on some webOS products like HP’s TouchPad. Here was a credible competing operating system to iOS that looked neat, functional, effective and even pretty. And having been an early adopter of the Palm machines back in the 90’s I was happy in 2010 to see that platform finding a home that could help it thrive and succeed. But it would appear that the hardware division of HP lacked some of the talent that the webOS software guys possessed in spades. The hardware was unworthy of the software that was to inhabit it. And so it seems that rather than first looking for a credible hardware partner to take on webOS together with HP, CEO Leo Apotheker made a drastic announcement stating that HP would terminate its webOS hardware business and most likely would spin off its PC division.
And that’s the part that really struck home with me. Back in 1987 when I started my first job, the company I was at had no personal computers to speak of. Everyone just had a dumb terminal hooked up to some mini-computer on their desk and it was all very dreadful, especially to someone with a Macintosh Plus at home. So one day I announced that I thought we should all get Macs at work and start doing things a little differently (the Macintosh II had just been introduced a couple of months earlier). I might as well have said that I wanted to bring Barbie and Ken dolls to the office, or that I wanted to use a Lego set to get my work done. Let’s not mention the fact that, on my Mac Plus, I was using a little piece of software that until shortly before that had been a Mac-only program: a little something called Microsoft Excel. On PC’s in those days serious number crunching was achieved with Lotus 1.2.3 and very few people used Microsoft products yet beyond MS DOS. To placate me, the head of the IT department took me on a visit to the HP headquarters in upstate New York to look at some of the new PC hardware they were coming out with. Needless to say I was left staring at a screen with a command line interface flashing a C-prompt and the only “exciting” option I had was what color that C-prompt would be displayed in. I ended up with an IBM PC on my desk, one of the very first in that office, running some version of the very ugly Windows 2.x (don’t ask me what version it was, it is irrelevant, just trust me when I say it was horrific)
And here we are so many years later, and HP is getting out of that business, and Apple is going strong and doing better every day. Michael Dell even sent a tweet about the HP development that was meant to poke fun at them. The tweet read: “If HP spins off their PC business….maybe they will call it Compaq?”. Having completed with Compaq/HP for so many years, Dell was happy about this development. But Mr Dell should remember his comment from October 1997 about Apple. When asked what could be done to fix Apple, he infamously said then: “What would I do ? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders”. Chances are he has been eating his hat ever since.