Oracle Buying WebOS?

According to a Reuters piece yesterday, Oracle could be in the running to buy WebOS off of HP. A post at Business Insider suggests that this will purely be a play to get patents, since Oracle has effectively zero presence in the mobile space. While that could be a likely scenario, I wouldn’t discount Oracle trying to get into the mobile space with hardware as well. Oracle wasn’t in the hardware business when it bought Sun, and it hasn’t divested or slowed the hardware side since acquiring it. Buying into the mobile space, and trying to build their own platform, could get them a foothold in mobile, and one they can control. I’m not saying this makes a lot of sense. Oracle doesn’t bring some incredible sense of design or a new approach to computing with their own platform, and certainly not one that could make a dent in either iOS or Android in the short or medium term.

However, that may not stop Oracle from trying. Right now, there is a serious shift towards tablets. Granted, tablet sales are still pretty small when compared to traditional notebook computers, but they have taken a serious chunk out of the netbook market and are eating into the low-end of the notebook space. If nothing else, tablets are highly visible and everyone is talking about them, particularly enterprise customers. They have a bandwagon-ish feel to them, and for a major technology player like Oracle to be left out of that space likely has them wondering how to get into it. The fact that HP and Dell, two of the largest suppliers of hardware technology, are also not making a lot of positive noise could be viewed as troublesome.

What I haven’t understood is why Oracle hasn’t started to provide mobile technology for iOS or Android. Why haven’t they built an app that provides some of the functions Oracle Enterprise Manager? Yes, it is web-based, and you could use your phone or tablet’s web browser, but a native app would provide a more cohesive interface with better performance. Like it or not, apps are what a lot of people want. Integrating by using an app would also allow using push notification services to be able to send alerts to mobile devices, and alerts that are integrated with the device in a useful way. Sorry, but a text message isn’t quite the same. The alert mechanisms on iOS and Android are quite rich, and allow a fair bit of fine-grained control. OEM could take advantage of that.

But, could Oracle actually build a device? What would it look like? The answer to that depends on what Oracle buys from HP. If Oracle just buys the technology, then they still have to build up the capabilities to design and build mobile devices. That would likely mean working with a partner to get the first generation device out while they build their capabilities and facilities to make their own hardware. The most likely candidates would be Samsung or HTC, but there could be other smaller device manufacturers that would be interested. HP would be the logical choice as the sub-contractor to make the devices (since they can already do that), but there is enough bad blood between HP right now that I wouldn’t see that as a likely option.

However, if Oracle buys the whole Palm division, then they get a ready-made organization, including manufacturing capability. In this case, they could simply stick an Oracle logo on the Pre phones and Touchpad, and voila, they have their first Oracle mobile devices. Now they have an organization that they can build from, and fairly rapid entry into the market.

Of course, this is all speculation. Oracle’s interest in WebOS is purely rumour right now. If they do buy something from HP, what they buy will give some indication as to what Oracle really wants. If they just get software, then it’s most likely a play for the IP and not the business. If they buy everything, then it would likely mean they want to make their own devices, and get into the mobile device space. Buying Sun was their move to go beyond database software and services, and get into the server market. A somewhat-intact Palm would get them a toehold into the mobile space. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this.

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