HP held a big press event in San Francisco yesterday but not to show off a tablet, a phone, or a printer. The company wanted to show the world its vision of the future. HP is betting that in the future, the "cloud" isn't a destination, it's a medium, wires and jacks are outdated and the next step is seamless integration of all our devices.
The big story yesterday was that this vision has HP positioning itself as a direct competitor to Google's Chrome OS.
The running theme throughout HP's marathon two-hour announcement yesterday was this (trademarked) theme of "Synergy". If you got a text message on your phone and it was within Bluetooth range, it would come through to your (newly purchased) TouchPad. If you held your phone up to your tablet, you could wirelessly transfer what you were doing on your tablet to your phone. Simply plop your phone on the (again trademarked) "TouchStone" technology and you're not only charging, but in a special preview mode that shows important dates and notifications. The language is all very clear: There's no more "plug and play." Everything is now as simple as a touch, if that.
And then, at the end of all that friendly touching, HP dropped the real bomb - WebOS, its mobile operating system, would be coming out on its PCs as well. Suddenly, HP is offering an entire, synergetic ecosystem that communicates both through proximity and the cloud.
What Was That About Google?
Google has been on a similar path pushing users to the cloud. There are Chrome Web apps, the Chrome OS, and the prototype CR-48 that runs it. In Google's vision, the OS disappears into the browser. It's the all-in movement to the cloud, with "programs" giving way to "Web apps" and the idea of "hard drives" disappearing all together. Gmail talks with Google Docs which talks with Google Calendar, and so on. Google has managed to create a device-agnostic, cloud-based ecosystem that weans the user of local data storage and desktops, bringing them fully into the fold.
Android devices can sync wirelessly - something we're still waiting for with Apple - but HP stepped up the game. Surely, the vision is there but we haven't fully seen it yet.
Surely, Apple Sees the Cloud
Apple offers a similar vision of the cloud, but it is still burdened by fraying sync cords and lost power plugs. (Did you know that that little cube USB adapter plug costs $30?) Apple has for-pay file sync services like MobileMe and still has not given its users the much-requested wireless syncing feature. Both Android and WebOS both boast the ability to sync your music library without a cord.
With Apple, this sort of synergy is a long-standing promise that hasn't come even close to being fulfilled. When I hold my iPhone up to my iPad, what happens? That's right - nothing.
Where HP Takes It One Step Further
At the end of the event, as we mentioned earlier, HP announced that it would be releasing PCs and laptops with WebOS. Two things are immediately obvious. First, whoah, there's potentially a new OS on the block. Second, if we take what we saw with phones and tablets seamlessly communicating using bluetooth, we can expect that the same would be true for WebOS-based computers.The PC will become another member of HP's "seamless integration." Where HP really pulls away is the combined integration of sharing data over the cloud and initiating that sharing by proximity using Bluetooth.
Now, none of this is to say that HP wins. Right now, the numbers are clear. WebOS had a 2% market share in the last quarter of 2010. Windows still accounts for nearly 90% of operating systems. iOS and Android blow WebOS clean out of the water and without even trying, Google has more users in its ecosystem than HP could currently hope for. If nothing else, HP put forth a bold vision of an ecosystem of devices that actually make sense. There's nothing ragtag or disjointed about the entire affair. One talks to another talks to another, without asking if it needs to.
While some of what HP showed today may be simple tricks that make everything seem far more connected - such as receiving SMS on your tablet when your phone is in the other room - they were the first to show off these simple tricks. It's these sorts of tricks we've been waiting for from the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft, but HP beat them all to the punch.