Acquisitions - Palm and HP, Siri and Apple

Two interesting acquisitions were announced today, one exciting, one disappointing.

First, the exciting one.  Apple acquired Siri.  I've used the Siri app for the iPhone, and was very impressed.  It attempts tries to be your digital secretary, and actually does it quite well.  It abstracts you away from how it finds out information, and just presents what you want to know.  It works great for the simple cases so far, and I think over time will become very good at much more.  For Apple, who I believe is focusing on making computers into appliances, this is a great fit.  As I discussed in my post about the iPad, I believe the next evolution of the computing space is creating computing appliances, not computers.  Thinking of the iPad as a computer with a touch screen instead of a computer with a keyboard is wrong, just as thinking of a TiVo as a computer with a video capture card is wrong.  Yes, both analogies are technically correct, but they both miss the point.  Both are computing appliances, not computers, and the rules and expectations for them should be different.  I'm very excited to see what Apple will do with Siri.

And now for the disappointing one.  HP acquires Palm.  Palm was once a great company.  They nearly single handily created the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) market, with the Palm Pilot.  The Palm Pilot dominated the market for years, until the advent of smart phones.  Then they created the smartphone market with their Treo line (technically they bought Handspring, which was formed by the same folks), and extended their domination.  I was an early adopter back in 1998 and used Palm Pilots and Treos up until last year when I switched to an iPhone 3GS.

If was very excited about Palm's new OS, but in the end it was too little, too late.  If they had launched the WebOS/Pre a year before the iPhone came out, they may still be dominating the landscape.  And they certainly should have been able to do that.  The Palm OS was great in the 90's, worked OK in the early '00's, but was really showing its age by 2005.  They waited far to long to move to the next generation.

I don't see how being acquired by HP will change their position.  iPhone and Android are locked arm-in-arm for the smartphone market.  iPhone owns the proprietary walled garden space, and Android is the open, extensible choice.  Microsoft and RIM are still hanging around, mostly in the corporate market.  There just isn't room for Palm.

HP is not an innovative company today, and is more known for their existing relationships and sales channels than engineering.  While I don't believe any company could have really saved Palm, an acquisition by HTC or another up and comer in the space would have been interesting.

Why Can't Google and Apple just Get Along?

Google and Apple are at war.  Google entered Apple's 'home turf' with Android, and Apple is entering Google's 'home turf' with iAd.  There is no question that the war is on.

In most situations, competition is a great thing.  It drives companies to innovate and produce better products and services.  While that will certainly happen with their respective mobile operating systems in this situation, I believe these are two companies that would be much stronger working together.

Google and Apple are good at very different things.  Gruber nails it when he says:
No better comparison of the cultural differences between Google and Apple than to compare Google Docs and iWork. iWork has no form of cloud based syncing or collaboration; the appeal of the apps (both on the Mac and iPad) is that it helps you create beautiful documents. Google Docs is all about cloud-based syncing and collaboration; its example documents are downright homely.
Google is great at building services that scale.  Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Maps are all great services, usually with simple and effective interfaces.  Apple is great at creating intuitive user interfaces and well engineered hardware.  As an end user, I want my services provided by Google on hardware built by Apple.

More specifically, I want my web user interfaces built by Google, and my native applications built by Apple.  I enjoy the close integration I have on my iPhone between the Calendar, Mail, and Contact applications and Google Apps (which is ironically made possible by Microsoft's ActiveSync).  I like Google's web interface to Gmail and Calendar.  I want them both, and I want them to work together.

In my ideal world, Google would provide a service interface for these services, and a generic web interface that is accessible anywhere, on any (modern) browser.  Apple (and others) would provide native applications that utilize these services.  I want to be able to access my data using either the browser (provided by Google) or a native app (by Apple) on either my iPhone or MacBook.  I wish the Address Book application on my MacBook worked as well with Gmail as the Contacts app does on my iPhone.

It should work this way across all services.  iWork should be able to store and edit files on Google Docs, which could then be edited using the web interface as well.  Everything lives in the cloud, with the ability to cache local copies with the native applications (or advanced browsers).  

Unfortunately, it looks like Apple and Google are moving farther apart, instead of closer together.  It is clear that Google first 'invaded' Apple's space with Android, but Apple is certainly a company that holds grudges and is very aggressive.   Adobe knows this all too well.

As an end user, I'm afraid this is one area where competition may not produce the best result, but who knows.  Neither Google nor Apple are going away anytime soon, and they may both surprise us with what they do.  Let's just hope it is about creating better products instead of damaging the competition.