Did Windows 8 kill the TouchPad and webOS?

Summary:The bizarre early death of the HP TouchPad and the webOS platform will be discussed for years. What triggered the company's abrupt reversal of its public plans for the platform? I'm betting on Windows 8.

MS kills TouchPad

Those covering the tech space, myself included, were shocked when HP cancelled the TouchPad tablet mere days after its launch. When the company quickly followed that cancellation with a complete reversal of its stated plans for the webOS platform, speculation was rife as to what caused the change of direction by HP.

As we near the launch date for Windows 8, the reason for HP's strange reversal is clear to me. It seems obvious that Windows 8 and its design to run on tablets killed off the TouchPad and forced HP's hand with webOS.

If you remember back when HP bought Palm and brought webOS into the HP family, the company wasted little time sharing the grandiose plans for the platform. HP was going to put webOS on its entire line of products, PCs, printers, the works. The platform that Palm built was to become a major part of HP's strategy for its consumer products.

HP employees shared with me off the record at the time that the company vision was to use webOS to power its printers to differentiate them from the competition. That plan was also to put webOS alongside Windows on all of its PCs, notebooks and desktops, to give it an advantage over the offerings from Dell, Lenovo, and other competitors. The inclusion of webOS was a key part of the competitive strategy to give it a leg up on the industry.

So what happened to make HP drop all of these big plans already underway? What was the trigger that made HP executives realize that everything webOS, including the once pride-inducing TouchPad tablet, was doomed to failure?

The timing of the reversal suggests it was Microsoft's giving HP an early look at Windows 8 that derailed webOS. According to HP employees there at the time, after Microsoft shared details of its plans for Windows 8 the HP vision for webOS completely changed.

It is common practice for Microsoft to share early plans of the direction for Windows with major partners like HP. This took place shortly before the TouchPad hit the market according to employees at HP.

The discovery that Microsoft was pushing tablets running Windows 8, and was working on a version for ARM tablets (like the TouchPad), was the trigger that shot holes in the sails of webOS at HP.

Once HP was shown the radical new direction for Windows the brakes were applied to stop the plans for webOS. The only thing that could negate HP's advantage in the marketplace with webOS was Windows itself powering tablets, notebooks, and desktops.

The production of a version of Windows for tablets and other ARM-based devices, Windows RT, single-handedly killed the TouchPad. According to HP employees who will remain anonymous, the rapid death of the TouchPad tablet is directly related to the inside information HP was given back then about Windows 8. This included demonstrations of early tablet prototypes running Windows 8.

HP officially has no comment about the effect Windows 8 had on its decision to kill the TouchPad and webOS. The hypothesis that Windows 8 triggered the death of webOS is my own, and is shared by some at HP. Given the timing of early Windows 8 information given to HP and the subsequent reversal of its plans with webOS, it's not a huge leap to reach this conclusion.

It took a big trigger to kill webOS at HP, and that trigger was Windows 8 in this author's view.

Topics: Mobile OS, Hewlett-Packard, Tablets, Windows

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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