Google Swipes Palm's Superstar

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) just stole a fortune from Hewlett-Packard (Nasdaq: HPQ  ) .

Not directly, of course; HP's bank vaults are safe from Google's prying hands. But hiring perhaps the best thing Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) had going for it on the eve of HP buying the handset maker, well, it's almost as brutal. I thought HP was getting a great deal, but now I'm not so sure.

The superstar former Palm employee I'm talking about is user interface guru Matias Duarte. After being architect of the Danger Hiptop, better known as the T-Mobile Sidekick, he helmed the WebOS user interface for Palm. The user experience was arguably the best reason to love your Palm Pre, and T-Mobile is still selling Sidekicks today. As TechCrunch writer Greg Kumparak puts it, "Wherever this guy goes, awesome user interfaces follow."

Pair that golden boy up with perhaps the biggest weakness of Google's Android phone software, and you have a match made in heaven. Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , HTC, and Samsung all feel the need to overlay the bland and sometimes confusing Android experience with their own user interface solutions, leading to differentiation between the brands -- and confusion for the end user. What if the stock Android interface could stand up to the best parts of a Sidekick or Palm Pre, and perhaps even the almighty Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone?

This is great news for Google, but a disaster for Palm and HP.

And that's not all. Wherever Duarte goes, many of his underlings and confreres tend to follow. This raises further questions.

  • WebOS already has an admirable user interface for cell phones. Will that translate onto tablet computers and printers, and how much work will that take?
  • Do HP and Palm have anybody else at hand who could complete the designs that Duarte created?
  • Will that special someone stay on throughout the transition or follow Duarte's lead?

These are not trivial considerations in the context of a $1.2 billion acquisition that placed a heavy emphasis on what WebOS can do for HP. It's an expensive brain drain.

Please take our Motley Poll then scroll down to the comments section to elaborate on your choice.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2010, at 9:51 AM, SenhorAmazonas wrote:

    Looking back a few months at all the money Palm spent to retain it's executive team, it seems pretty foolish that they didn't extend that same philosophy to their key technology people. Matias will surely do well at Google and the Palm execs got their golden mini-parachute but the stockholders (aka HP) lose out. Pay attention to where these execs land after they hit the street (and they will hit the street) to make sure you don't invest your hard earned money in their brilliant (cough cough) decision making abilities again

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