Undeterred—or at least not entirely humbled—by the spectacular crash-and-burn of its webOS tablets and smartphones, Hewlett-Packard is reportedly prepping a new round of mobile devices loaded with Google Android.
That report from ReadWrite, which drew its information from unnamed sources “familiar with the matter,” suggested that HP is developing a high-end tablet that runs on Nvidia’s Tegra 4 processor. Those sources also suggested that HP was tinkering with an Android-powered smartphone.
HP obtained webOS, a mobile OS built around a Linux kernel, during its $1.2 billion takeover of Palm in 2010. WebOS had powered Palm’s flagship smartphone, the Pre, which failed to gain significant market traction despite early hype. HP incorporated the operating system into the TouchPad, which it hoped would challenge the iPad for a share of the consumer tablet market. But after six weeks of anemic sales in the summer of 2011, HP ended the project, killing its foray into webOS smartphones for good measure. (WebOS was later open-sourced.)
If HP decides to produce a few tablets running Google Android, it wouldn’t come as a complete shocker: the company has already produced a Chromebook, a 14-inch laptop running Google’s Chrome OS. Chrome OS is a cloud-dependent operating system for laptops and desktops, with access to a full suite of Google services (such as Gmail) and the Chrome Web Store (for apps).
That’s not to suggest that HP is abandoning its long-running relationship with Microsoft; indeed, the manufacturer has indicated it has Windows 8 tablets in the pipeline, in addition to the usual complement of laptops running the next-generation operating system.
But HP could still be hedging its bets. Android remains an overwhelmingly popular operating system for mobile devices, and customers’ affinity for cloud applications suggests that Chrome OS has a shot at success in the open marketplace. With PC sales eroding, and Microsoft increasingly determined to transform itself in a “devices and services” company that makes its own hardware and software, HP is clearly looking for ways to gain some traction with customers and perhaps shake up its own business model in a way that works.
All that being said, given the spectacular failures of many top-shelf tablets over the past few years, HP is still gambling pretty heavily if it decides to head down the Android road.