updated 09:45 pm EDT, Thu August 18, 2011
No clear exit strategy as HP kills product line
On the heels of today's announcement that HP was discontinuing tablet and smartphone products featuring WebOS, a report from ThisIsMyNext claims to have confirmation from an internal company meeting that HP remains committed to the platform as an IP asset, but doesn't yet know what to do with it and is considering scouting new hardware partners or companies willing to license the iOS competitor.
WebOS Global Business Unit Vice President Stephen DeWitt was quoted as reiterating -- several times during the meeting -- that HP will not "walk away" from WebOS, but also admitted that a plan for determining what the platform's future would look like was not complete and that "we don't have all the answers today," while saying that the company should have a clearer vision for it within the next two weeks. He added that there would be staff reductions in the WebOS team, but indicated that development of the OS will continue -- if the company can find enough talent that is "serious about winning."
Former WebOS head (and former Apple executive) Jon Rubinstein, who had been CEO of Palm before it was acquired by HP, was moved out of software and into hardware design by the company last month. The report made no mention of him being in attendance at the meeting.
Both DeWitt and HP Vice President Todd Bradley admitted that the reason WebOS hadn't done well in the marketplace was due more to mediocre hardware than the software. The men were quoted as saying that HP needed to stop "trying to force non-competitive products into the market," perhaps referring to HP's additions to the glut of iPhone and iPad imitators already in competition with HP.
While WebOS has generally won much critical praise as a solid competitor to Apple's iOS, the dominance of Google's more-derivative Android platform left HP with products that couldn't distinguish themselves from the pack and were seen as outside the two main operating systems for mobile devices.
Asked directly about licensing the OS to other manufacturers such as HTC or Samsung, Bradley noted that WebOS is currently limited to running on only Qualcomm chips, a situation that would have to change in order for HP to be able to offer it for wide-scale licensing. He didn't mention any solid plans to do that, or any other potential clients for the OS. Given the current climate in the mobile markets, the potential for a large-scale licensing arrangement seems remote, with most handset makers committed to Android or other OSes like Windows Phone 7.
How HP plans to handle the WebOS unit remains unclear, as it is looking to spin off the Personal Systems Group of which the WebOS GBU is a part. The impression gained from the report is that HP continues to consider WebOS a valuable asset, but can't make it work well enough with the company's own hardware.
Whether HP will be able to find a partner that can marry the quality of WebOS to matching hardware to carve a significant niche in the smartphone and tablet arenas remains to be seen. [via ThisIsMyNext]