Did Epocrates foresee HP's failure?

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsLate last week, following a restructuring, Hewlett-Packard announced that it would no longer make devices based on the webOS platform if acquired from Palm for $1.2 billion last year. At the beginning of this week the company began a fire sale of existing webOS devices: HP's 16 GB TouchPad, for example, was on sale for $99, down from $499 when it first hit store shelves last month.

HP is sending "mixed messages" about its future plans for webOS, according to some analysts, since the company still plans to keep the OS alive and while it won't be investing into the development of the platform, it will provide minor updates moving forward. Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said that HP's webOS is a "terrific" platform but it lacks developer support and now has no committed hardware manufacturers.

At least one major medical app developer might have seen this coming.

In December Epocrates sent an email to users of its webOS app users that come February it would no longer support Palm’s webOS platform: “Due to the relatively low interest level among our user base, Epocrates has decided to discontinue support of the Palm webOS platform for smartphones,” the email read. By May, Epocrates said the app wouldn't open or function so users ought to get used to the mobile optimized web app or switch to Android or iPhone.

At the time online discussions forums for Palm fans generated interesting comments from physicians who claimed to be longtime users of Palm devices for medical content and apps. One physician lamented: “I cannot justify using a webOS device, in any form whether it be a smartphone or tablet, if it doesn’t have any medical apps as much as I hate to say it. No Epocrates in six months. No word of any medical apps… coming to webOS. This is a sad day for Palm and HP. You have not only lost the consumer market and not gained any traction in the enterprise market, now you have lost the physician and healthcare market.”

By waving the white flag in the face of competition from Apple's iPad and the growing number of Android tablets on the market, HP took away what was once a promising option for many healthcare professionals. Palm, of course, has long been a favorite device maker for health care professionals especially back when PDAs were the dominant "smart" device in HCP lab coats.

Of course, exiting the mobile device business does not mean HP is no longer active in mobile health. The company's interest in mobile health extends beyond its handsets and tablets business. HP donated $1 million to the mHealth Alliance last year, and it's also been especially interested in using mobile technology to authenticate medication in emerging markets along with its partner mPedigree.

Tablets: Increasingly looking like a two horse race.