On Sunday, PreCentral published an interesting rumor piece based on a leaked slide from HP. According to the story, the company has plans to include a "music syncing solution" with the forthcoming TouchPad tablet that will allow users to remotely store and sync music in the cloud -- something like Amazon's new Cloud Drive service, but with a webOS front-end. While this may sound like a great solution to combat Apple's iTunes dominance, I think it's the wrong move for HP and its mobile strategy (if it is, indeed, true). I believe the real opportunity lies in the webOS' Synergy, and how that technology might be employed across a wide range of cloud sync services.
After the introduction of the TouchPad, Pre 3, and Veer, I sat down with Palm / HP mobile honcho Jon Rubinstein and the company's SVP of applications and services, Steven McArthur, for an interview. During that conversation, the topic of Synergy being applied to other services beyond messaging and contacts cropped up, and eventually led to a discussion on the possibility of integrating streaming services into native, webOS hubs. I asked "Do you see an opportunity to get into partnerships with companies like Rdio [streaming / cloud services]... Do services like Pandora become less like an app and more like a component of something else?" to which Steven McArthur replied "What you're describing is Music Synergy." Music Synergy?
Okay, some background.
In the new version of webOS (3.0) which will premiere with the TouchPad, the photo viewing application will allow Facebook and other photo-sharing sites to plug into its architecture, meaning that you can view and comment on your Facebook content through a native client, which flattens the user interaction and makes transitioning from your personal to cloud photos seamless. It's Photo Synergy in action, and it's a brilliant idea. Windows Phone 7 does this too, but it's limited right now, and there doesn't seem to be a clear path to build it out for more services. With the proliferation of cloud-based services for images, music, video and so on, the complications for an average user to utilize and organize their content has become (and will become) increasingly chaotic and complex. Palm's work with combined services in Synergy means that the company already has a leg up over the competition in making sense of the noise -- which tells me that this is not only a place where HP can excel, it's place where the company can win.
What if HP applied this technology to music applications? What if your Rdio, MOG, Pandora, and even Amazon's Cloud Player (hey, Jon's on the board!) could interface with the native music player in webOS, giving you a familiar, understandable hub to deal with the variety of sources in your life? If HP could allow raw streams coupled with common sets of data to flow through its app (and servers), the utility to an end user would be immediately obvious. It's clear that streaming services are the next frontier in content consumption, and HP has the chance to be at the forefront with this technology. Since HP would be introducing this service on a device with Beats audio, it would also start to paint a picture as the music connoisseur's platform -- HP takes on a personality as the company that's paying attention to the details.
Let's go one step further. Imagine the webOS video application aggregated Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon streaming functions through one interface (similar to how Apple TV handles Netflix now), so that the experience wasn't so much one of diving into and out of an app -- it was more like changing a channel. Users will be praying for a method of dealing with an increasingly scattered landscape, and HP has the tech to answer those prayers. This can be the company's differentiator in mobile. The argument right now between webOS and other platforms is all centered around minutiae; the way it multitasks, notifications, forthcoming enterprise security. Bringing Synergy to video and music services is bold, it's important, and it's something no one else is offering right now -- it's a feature that fringe cases (like yours truly) would applaud, and average users would love instantly.
HP: forget about owning the services, controlling the purchases, trying to take on iTunes. Control the pipes, make it make sense for users, and build it into everything you make. Your new story can be one of cloud connectedness, bringing order to chaos, and being able to say for the first time in a long time: we do something they can't do.