In a surprise, Hewlett-Packard on Monday moved Jon Rubinstein out of his leadership role at the Palm business unit responsible for WebOS, the TouchPad tablet, and Pre smartphones into a "product innovation" role in HP's Personal Systems Group, covering PCs and printers. An operations-oriented manager -- Stephen DeWitt, formerly the Americas sales chief at the Personal Systems Group -- takes over the Palm business unit.
Rubinstein -- known as "Ruby" in the tech industry -- cut his teeth at Apple during the critical formative period of the iPod as one of its creators and was hired to rescue Palm several years ago. As Palm's chief, he led the development of WebOS, which looked initially as it might seriously take on the iPhone, but ended up gaining little traction, causing Palm to put it up for sale a year later and landing in HP's hands.
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The original WebOS had an intriguing card-deck metaphor, but suffered in comparison to the iPhone's iOS in several areas, including performance, applications, and security. Ironically, the HP TouchPad released a couple weeks ago as the company's answer to the iPad followed the same script as the Pre: suffering in comparison to the iPad's iOS in performance, applications, and security. As I noted in my TouchPad review, much of the really cool stuff in the TouchPad was old WebOS technology, debuting in the 2.x version last fall, and I wondered why so little had been done to make the TouchPad shine in other areas in the interim.