Palm’s WebOS Never Stood a Chance at HP

by Jeff Wiener on March 15, 2012

Like some technology-centric game of Clue, it looks we’ve finally found out who killed WebOS. No, it wasn’t Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the library (good guess though), but instead it was short-lived Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker who was responsible for snuffing out Palm’s once highly touted mobile operating system.

Recently, former HP CTO Phil McKinney went on record about the firm’s dark horse $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm back in 2010, a move that many at the time were convinced would save Palm and its struggling WebOS. McKinney claimed that following the acquisition, Palm was simply never given a chance to find its footing before the entire project was scrapped.

In fact, McKinney goes on to say that while HP had established a long term strategic plan for Palm and its WebOS, the once innovative mobile OS truly never stood a chance once Apotheker—who was fired after only 10 months on the job—arrived on the scene.

Although none of this will likely revive WebOS, doomed to forever exist in open source limbo, I have always found it incredibly interested when insights into controversial backroom decisions are brought to light. In this case, I was surprised both when HP swooped in the claim Palm back in 2010 and a year later when the company scrapped the entire Palm/WebOS project, it all seemed ill-timed and ill-planned.

For his part, McKinney is using this particular controversial topic to promote his new book, Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation, offering such insights into HP’s overall strategic plan regarding Palm, and how Apotheker single-handedly screwed it up.

“[The Palm acquisition] was going to be a long term effort,” McKinney said in a recent statement, “Palm was struggling and HP was stepping in, doing the acquisition, and we were basically going to take three years hands-off. Palm was basically going to get cash infusions, resources, and expertise. But Palm was going to be given three years to basically get itself positioned to be a market leader in its space.”

Now fast forward one year to 2011, HP has a new CEO and following the initial struggles of the company’s TouchPad WebOS tablet, the entire project was inexplicably scrapped, with HP discontinuing all its WebOS projects, effectively ending its use of Palm and its mobile OS.

In fact, if McKinney’s claims are true, it almost seems like Apotheker and HP were ready to pull the plug as the TouchPad was being launched, clearly, as McKinney mentions, “an example of not committing long term to the resources and not having patience for innovation.”

Following the demise of WebOS last year, Apotheker himself explained the decision as a strategic move regarding an asset that simply wasn’t living up to preset milestones, but as this new information shows, WebOS truly never stood a chance.

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