So here’s an interesting exercise: Imagine if Amazon had acquired Palm and WebOS instead of HP. While WebOS and HP’s TouchPad tablet were ultimately failures — and the deal timing doesn’t really work — it may have resulted in a more interesting partnership and more successful products.
What WebOS did well is exactly what Amazon’s Kindle Fire needs: A beautiful, clever interface, second only to Apple’s. (And even better than iOS in some ways.) Combined with Amazon’s expertise in e-commerce, digital media, and its aggressive pricing, a Kindle TouchPad might be an even more compelling device than what Amazon has built on its own.
There are some major problems with this idea, of course. Amazon’s app ecosystem mostly exists because companies are already developing for Android. Building the Kindle Fire around WebOS would have meant far fewer apps, at least in the short-term. Or perhaps the WebOS team could have remade its user interface for an Android-based tablet, but who knows how long that would have taken or if it would have been any good. (Not to mention any economic or logistical problems with this combination.)
But, still, an interesting idea! Jeff Bezos clearly cares about becoming a great tablet maker, and Palm’s team — led by ex-Apple executive (and now Amazon board member!) Jon Rubinstein — might have helped. It’s hard to imagine Amazon blowing the Palm acquisition worse than HP did. It might have even been a great combination.
The app ecosystem isn’t that big a deal. you could take it a couple of ways. If Amazon has bought Palm, they would have had Palm’s partnering and business development team, which was pretty darn awesome. You want to convince people to write apps for a platform? First, you need a team who knows how to make those connections and sell the opportunity. And then you need an opportunity they can sell. “Hey, this device will be plastered on the front page of Amazon.com for the next two years at this price point, and we’re going to push it hard into the hands of everyone we can get it in front of. And if you commit to shipping this, we’ll make sure your app gets a month of favored placement in the catalog during the holiday season and you can demo it at the launch announcement”. If you need to, for key apps you can sweeten the deal with anything from outright subsidies (“we’ll hire two developers for three months”), marketing and publicity, any number of things.
Amazon’s story was easier being on Android to some degree, but this is a very manageable situation if you have the right people and management commitment.
Or Amazon could have built an Android compatibility layer into a WebOS-based device. Quite technically possible for the right teams.
Or what I’d most likely have done in their shoes: take the webOS user-visible interface components and port them to Android to replace the Android versions. Basically throw out the underlying technology and run the webSO front end on Android. The bad news (for Palm/webOS at least) would be that Amazon wouldn’t have needed a huge chunk of Palm to do that, it only would have needed to bring over a 100-150 people, more or less. Which is, from what I can see, about the size of the webOS GBU under HP today, so the end result would have been about the same, at least as far as leaving dead bodies on the side of the road during the death march…
And if Amazon DID investigate buying Palm back at that time (and I honestly have no idea one way or another), that’d be the thing that killed that deal. Palm at that time was only interested in a buyer that would keep them together and let them continue to try to build the product. “Parting out” the company was only an option if they couldn’t find a buyer that’d continue the operation. HP would and did. A deal where someone bought Palm and then laid off 2/3 of the company wouldn’t have been on Ruby’s A or B lists (and there were — rumors say — a number of players looking to buy Palm for the patents and throw all of webOS and it’s people into the recycling bin…. Depending on what rumors you heard, ALL of the offers other than HP were that kind of deal. I know that’s what I was expecting…)
There are rumors (and again, I DO NOT KNOW. I wasn’t in the meetings, if there were any) that Amazon investigated buying webOS after Leo blew it up and HP was looking at options (and exits). And that Amazon ended up walking away from it because the costs of operating the organization was way beyond what they considered affordable because of the costs associated to supporting the cloud aspects of webOS. So it’s possible Amazon kicked the tires on this twice, but if they did, the first time, it probably was a deal Palm wasn’t interested in, and the second time, the price tag made webOS too expensive for them to take on.
So I think webOS on Android on Fire (so to speak) was definitely something that could have been considered and could have given Amazon some nice options to work with, but the cost of making ti happen would have been way beyond what it would have made sense to pay to get it.