HP wants Palm OS for Web-connected printers, Hurd says

Microsoft is an important partner, he says, but for some devices HP wants its own OS

Hewlett-Packard has already said it will use Palm's webOS in smartphones and slate computers, but on Tuesday it revealed it has another category of products in mind: printers.

HP is buying Palm because it wants the company's operating system to use in Web-connected printers, Chairman and CEO Mark Hurd said during HP's quarterly earnings call. The printers let people print maps, theater tickets and other content straight from the Internet, without needing to start a PC.

"You've now got a whole series of Web-connected printers that, as they connect to the Web, need an OS. We prefer that OS to be our [intellectual property], where we can control the customer experience," Hurd said when asked about HP's motives for the US$1.2 billion deal to buy Palm.

"You can certainly make the same case for smaller form-factor products in the mobile world, like a slate," he added.

HP does want to grow Palm's smartphone business, Hurd said, but that's not its only motivation for buying the company, and possibly not even the biggest.

"It isn't precisely a smartphone play as I've seen some people write," Hurd said. The deal is "strategically broader" for HP. "It really has more to do with the IP," he said, meaning the intellectual property, or Palm's webOS.

Microsoft is still an important partner, Hurd was quick to add, but HP wants its own OS for certain devices.

"Microsoft is probably one of the best relationships we've got in our company, and they're still extremely important to us," he said. "There are a couple of form factors, though, that are very attractive for us, and these small form factors is where we think the IP can be very additive."

HP announced its plans to acquire Palm last month. The company's webOS has won some praise, but Palm has still struggled to compete against Apple's iPhone, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, and a new wave of handsets based on Google's Android OS. HP hopes to close the deal in the third quarter, subject to approval from Palm's stockholders.

HP unveiled its most advanced Web-connected printer last June, the Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web. It has a 4.3-inch touchscreen that lets users view, format and print content from Web sites that HP has partnerships with, such as Google Maps, the USA Today newspaper, Coupons.com and the Fandango ticket service.

It also hooks up to an HP store where customers can download applications for other Web sites. Hurd also suggested that HP plans to use Palm's app store for its printers and other devices.

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James Niccolai

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