Palm: Not Waving But Drowning

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I’ve been trying to maintain a bullish stance on Palm and WebOS and I’m still a big fan of the Touchpad. But with the loss of CEO Jon Rubinstein I wonder if the “webOS global business unit” née Palm is serious about the platform and if the unrest (which we first learned about on June 15 thanks to a tipster who told us Rubinstein was on his way out), continues, I suspect it may be curtains for the last great hope to offer an alternative to the Android/iOS juggernaut.

While I’m not about to ascribe Rubinstein’s passing to signs of Palm’s re-demise, I have heard of complaints of a “toxic” atmosphere at HP and the problems associated with shoehorning what was, at its core, a start-up into the dark, cadaverous corpus of Hewlett-Packard. As I noted here, HP isn’t after the glamor and glitz of the early adopter. Early adopters wouldn’t be caught dead lugging an HP around, just as they’d rather take in an evening of unlicensed dental surgery than look at “chic” devices like Dell’s failed Adamo line. You can put a pig in a dress and call it Pearl but you wouldn’t want to take said pig to dinner and then dancing at the school cotillion. Many have tried, HP included.

HP is an non-ego enterprise play and Rubinstein was an egoist in the best way. He was able to push through sweeping changes at Palm that essentially resurrected the company in the eyes of many and offered a strong alternative to the phone of the moment. WebOS was a reverse mullet, party up front, business in the back, and people loved it.

I’m worried that this time Palm won’t make it through another two years without being subsumed by HP. WebOS will exist, but it will be a shell over Windows. WebOS will exist but it will be used to improve printer interfaces. WebOS will exist but it probably won’t ride around in our pockets for much longer.

I want this screed to be untrue. I want WebOS to return, Phoenix-like, to the mobile space. They have, so far, impressed me. But I wonder how much longer they can impress the suits at HP.