Over the course of the next year, I’m guessing we see more and more Android partners get fed up with some aspect of the OS — be it the hardships making money, Google’s own intentions, lawsuits, etc. With that in mind, webOS remains a dark horse for something interesting.
But, as Brian X. Chen points out, HP is putting fewer and fewer resources into it as the move to open source the software is nearly complete. Someone is going to need to step up to take control and keep development going. HTC? LG? Facebook?
We’ve just been tipped to a memo circulated internally by HP’s Todd Bradley — who runs the company’s recently-merged Printing and Personal Systems Group — announcing the creating of a new Mobility business unit underneath him that will be responsible for “consumer tablets” and “additional segments and categories where we believe we can offer differentiated value to our customers.”
It was a year ago tomorrow that HP killed off the TouchPad tablet and started the process of getting out of the consumer computing space entirely.
A month after that, CEO Leo Apotheker was fired.
Bradley, in his memo:
I am pleased to announce that we are creating a team dedicated to delivering the best mobility solutions in the industry. With this move, we are building on our commitment to re-invest in mobility via dedicated leadership, focused research and development, amazing new products and a growing suite of applications and services.
What’s amazing is that HP already *had* this team via the acquisition of Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010. They completely fucked it up. Now they’ve completely wasted of a year — which may as well be a decade in this environment.
Speaking of prison terms, Josh Topolsky scored an interview with Jon Rubinstein on his way out of the door from HP.
Rubinstein tries — and fails — to hold back his contempt for the past few HP regimes. It reads like he and fellow HP VP Todd Bradley had a grand plan (this one, perhaps?) for HP/webOS that disintegrated when then-CEO Mark Hurd was ousted. That, of course, kickstarted months of turmoil and turnover, highlighted by the disastrous Leo Apotheker reign (which didn’t even last a year).
The notion that Rubinstein’s exit was planned all along sure smells like total bullshit.
Best part of the interview:
There were things that didn’t work out the way everyone expected — can you talk about what caused the issues?
I don’t think it really matters at this point. It’s old history at this point.
You don’t want to talk about Leo?
Nah. We built an amazing OS in webOS. It’s very advanced, it’s where things are going. But we ran out of runway, and we ended up at HP and HP wasn’t in good enough shape on its own to be able to support the effort. I had four CEOs! Mark acquired us, Les Jackson took over as the interim CEO, then Leo, and now Meg.
While Rubinstein says he’s going to take some time off, he’s not retiring. Given the bad blood in recent years, I wouldn’t expect him back at Apple anytime soon. But remember, he is still an Amazon board member — and Amazon is pushing deeper into hardware…
Jon Rubinstein, the former CEO of Palm (and former Apple executive), has left HP.
With Palm hardware now dead and webOS now open-sourced, the writing has been on the wall for this to happen for a while. To hear HP tell it, this was the plan all along. As Arik Hesseldahl writes:
Rubinstein is said to have no immediate plans, and had completed a 12-24 month commitment to stay with HP after the acquisition. “Jon has fulfilled his commitment and we wish him well,” HP spokeswoman Mylene Mangalindan said.
Sounds almost like a prison term.
Good follow up on the webOS situation by Palm vet and notable web persona Dion Almaer.
His stance is essentially that Palm had a ton of talented people, but webOS was rushed and was ultimately pushed out the door too early. This led to a domino effect.
He also argues that the web in many ways is powerful enough to be a full-fledged mobile platform, but webOS wasn’t position correctly to do that. And the really hard work wasn’t put in to make that happen. Instead, webOS was sort of a poor-performing half-measure.
Almaer’s bottom line is that the web without any native code isn’t ready yet — with an emphasis on yet.
If we brought a true, reliable, performant, Web platform with the great UI of Matias and friends…. webOS wouldn’t be in the hands of Meg right now.
A pretty damning report from Brian X. Chen for The New York Times. It essentially says that Palm and then HP were incompetent with their building and management of webOS.
But even more damning may be what it says about the “web versus native” debate. Quoting Paul Mercer, the former senior director of software for Palm:
“If the bar is to build Cupertino-class software in terms of responsiveness and beauty,” he said, “WebKit remains not ready for prime time, because the Web cannot deliver yet.”
This is interesting since Apple itself was vital in the development of WebKit and still uses it as the backbone of Safari. But consider this: when the iPhone first launched in 2007, Apple tried to get third party developers to make web apps for the iPhone since there was no native development SDK. A year later, they backed down from that and released the framework that created the most important element of the iOS ecosystem: third-party native apps.
It’s perhaps a bit too simplistic to say, but Palm didn’t have the luxury to pivot to native because “native” for webOS is the web. And Mercer argues that it’s still not ready to match native app development — a topic which is entering its fourth year of debate.
I can’t speak from the developer side of things, but all I know is what I see as a user: native apps still destroy web apps. Starting this week, I’m sure we’re going to hear how that’s poised to change (yet again) in 2012. But I doubt it. And that’s why webOS is still screwed.
HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman talking to employees about the future of webOS today.
In April of 2010, when HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion, I spoke with Brian Humphries, HP’s SVP of Strategy. His quote:
“Our intent is to double down on webOS.”
That was just a year and a half ago. I’m getting whiplash watching HP these days.
In the rush to analyze what HP just did, everyone is throwing around a ton of ideas for what happens next. Of those, Nicholas Carlson’s is the best so far.
Dan Frommer calls this “not a crazy idea”. I’d go farther. It’s a good one given Facebook’s vision. They clearly believe in HTML5 and are working towards that future, but at the same time, they need their own mobile OS solution. WebOS would give them the best of both worlds.
Facebook has tried to fork Android to make their own flavor, but whispers suggest that hasn’t worked as well as was hoped. WebOS could be fully their’s — for a price.
The idea of Amazon buying webOS makes some sense too, but they’re likely already too far down the path of building their own Android fork. We should hear more about that soon.
Google is another wild card. They already have Android and Chrome OS, so why buy a third OS? Well, if the Palm patents were included, that would be one reason. But more generally, webOS is also in-line with their vision of a web-based future. Certainly part of it could help Chrome OS and/or Android.
But a certain $12.5 billion deal that just went down may preclude a webOS deal.
One final thought: HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion. Given the current market, Palm’s patent portfolio alone is likely worth much more than that. HP’s move could go from dumbfounding to genius if they spin those patents off for several times what they paid for all of Palm.
Update: As thatwhichis thatwhichis points out below, former Palm CEO and current HP exec Jon Rubinstein is on Amazon’s board…
Update 2: Yeah, this puppy is getting sold.
But only in a limited way, Jon Rubinstein tells This is my next.
This is interesting in that it would be a step away from what has been a “let’s be more like Apple” strategy. Well, unless you count 1990s Apple.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad move. It’s just different.
Apple doesn’t license out for a number of reasons. But one big one I imagine is the simple fear that it would cheapen the brand — even if they got the best partners in the world. Or at the very least, the fear that it could in some way cheapen the brand. Or hamper the ecosystem. When you’re not in total control, well, you’re not in total control.
But HP has a problem right now in that webOS is far behind iOS, Android, and perhaps even WP7 in terms of reach. The fastest way to build that up would be through licensing to OEM partners.
But if that’s the main reason, that is absolutely a mistake.
Hopefully HP just feels like webOS would benefit from outside help and they’d love to see others’ takes on what they could do with it. But that’s a bit idealistic. It almost always comes down to a business decision on some level.
And for that reason alone, I dont’ have a good feeling about this.
You know the beautiful thing: June 29, 2009, is the two-year anniversary of the first shipment of the iPhone. Not one of those people will still be using an iPhone a month later.
Roger McNamee, Elevation Partners co-founder (owners of about 30% of Palm) in March 2009 prior to the Palm Pre launch. Beautiful, indeed.