It’s Official: WebOS Is Divorcing From Palm’s Hardware

You’re excused if you didn’t notice a pair of memos leaked to PreCentral this weekend. It was a holiday and, more important, neither of them particularly matter.

They involved HP’s WebOS initiative and they state, in short, that the hardware part of the team is hitting the bricks while the software group will remain ensconced close to HP’s putrescent heart. Why? Because HP wanted some leverage against the coming juggernaut that is Windows 8 and, more important, HP needs a small and light platform for future enterprise devices that doesn’t cost them a few dollars per seat in royalties. I doubt seriously that that’s what Mark Hurd wanted before he screwed up but that’s what we got: a neutered platform that may or may not exist after the next shareholder’s meeting.

Here are some pertinent paragraphs:

EVP, Chief Strategy and Technology Officer
Office of Strategy and Technology
TO/ OST Employees
SUBJECT/ Organizational Announcement: webOS Teams to Join OS&T

Two weeks ago we announced the transformation of HP for the future. As part of that change we made a very tough decision to exit the webOS hardware device business. At the same time we recognized the value inherent in the webOS software platform. Not only because of its elegant, intuitive interface, but because of our strategic focus on cloud, connectivity, services and software, and printing.

I’m pleased that the executive team has decided that the webOS software teams will be best served joining the Office of Strategy and Technology while we investigate how to leverage the webOS platform and its ecosystem. This move also supports the teams’ continued efforts with over-the-air updates and the application catalog.

First, note the “strategic focus:” cloud, connectivity, services and software, and printing. This is one of the first times we’ve been able to see where we’re really headed here. HP seems to want to be something like Sun used to be – a full-service provider of infrastructure and business systems for a select clientele with, and this is important, their own intellectual property and OS.

Will this OS ever show up in a consumer product ever again? Probably not in any way we’re thinking. WebOS is more than just a bunch of cards on a screen but, given the Linux underpinnings, it seems like a heck of a price to pay for what amounts to an open source kernel. The Office of Strategy and Technology is HP’s “skunkworks” and bizdev team and, presumably, this gives them some other biz to dev. They can point to it and say “Sure, we can do a cheap point of sale system and sure we can build some field devices for your insurance adjusters.” WebOS an arrow in their quiver whereas it used to be the bow itself.

For my money, I’d avoid buying HP hardware right now. A blogger buddy of mine turned down a review of one of their latest laptops because it’s unclear whether anything, from the simplest PC to that $99 Touchpad will ever be supported again. It’s hard to take HP seriously as a consumer play anymore and it’s clear they won’t keep WebOS hardware and software together just for the sake of us, the consumers.

[Image:Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock]