HP's official statement is very nice to Rubinstein, citing him as the WebOS's "visionary." But it seems obvious that Rubinstein's difficulty in translating that vision to a compelling product line (remember, hardly any carriers have chosen to sell the Pre 2 or Pixi smartphones released this winter, either) got HP's leadership to look for a different leader. As HP's Todd Bradley, the executive vice president in charge of the Personal Systems Group put it in a statement: "Stephen DeWitt has a proven ability to build and scale organizations into global, multibillion-dollar operations, and I am confident that he will take WebOS to the next level." Translation: We need someone who can make a business out of this WebOS investment.
The stakes for HP are high: It's promised that WebOS will be the common operating system across all its personal devices: PCs (running on top of Windows), tablets, smartphones, and printers. The goal is to create a broad HP ecosystem that might have the power to compete with Apple's formidable Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and iTunes ecosystem.
Apple is nearly flawless in its execution, though it does make mistakes; Final Cut Pro X is the most recent, and MobileMe is perhaps the most prominent flop in recent memory. Apple is also both relentless and cannily creative. For HP to have a chance at being a significant alternative to Apple in the new "post-PC" market, its execution on the WebOS promise has to be as good as Apple's has been on iOS -- offering technology with unrealized potential won't be good enough.
The Rubinstein-led Palm and now HP have delivered less than the WebOS vision's promise. So perhaps DeWitt's appointment so soon after the TouchPad disappointment is a sign that HP is truly serious about securing a strong position in the post-PC future by executing on the WebOS vision. Let's just hope it doesn't forget the other half of the secret formula: compelling, magical, innovative design.
This article, "HP's WebOS shake-up: Too late to tackle Apple?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.