Web 2.0 Summit: WebOS on track to make HP a mobile contender by next year

One of the morning sessions at the Web 2.0 Summit was billed as a "Conversation with HP" but some scheduling changes left Executive VP Todd Bradley unable to attend and Jon Rubinstein, head of the Palm Global Business Unit, on his own on stage.

One of the morning sessions at the Web 2.0 Summit was billed as a "Conversation with HP" but some scheduling changes left Executive VP Todd Bradley unable to attend and Jon Rubinstein, head of the Palm Global Business Unit, on his own on stage.

And so, this conversation about HP really turned into something more about Palm and, specifically, the integration of its WebOS into the HP ecosystem.

HP was clear when it acquired Palm that the real value in the deal was the mobile operating system that users were just starting to experience with the Pre smartphones that were launched under the Palm brand. And while the Palm team at HP is working on smartphones running the OS, there's also work going on to bring the OS into a number of products.

Rubinstein mentioned smartphones, tablets and printers - all of which have been mentioned in the past. Beyond that, he was pretty tight-lipped. "There are other ideas in the pipeline that we're not ready to talk about yet."

Still, Rubinstein is bullish that the company will be in a different position by this time next year when it comes to the competitive landscape around mobile. Increasingly, it's becoming a crowded field - HP's WebOS, Google's Android, RIM's Blackberry, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and, of course, Apple's iOS.

If Rubinstein is concerned, he isn't showing it - despite the turmoil among senior management in recent months that would be reason enough. "Absolutely, yes," he responded when asked if there's room for WebOS in this crowded market.

He notes that WebOS has received critical acclaim for its innovation, a start-from-scratch successor to the PalmOS that dominated the landscape for more than a decade. Having used a Pre for a short time when it was released, I'll agree with that. I wasn't a big fan of the device itself, but the operating system and user interface was impressive

The problem, he explained, was that Palm - a struggling company - didn't have the resources to take it to the level that the company envisioned. HP, on the other hand, was a company that wanted to control its own destiny in mobile, that didn't want to be tied down to a partner's OS (read: Microsoft.)

But can the Palm team stayed focused, given all of the drama that's gone down at the top - the sudden resignation of CEO Mark Hurd, the surprise hiring of former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker to replace him and the mix of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison into the drama?

Sure, all of that was a slight distraction when events occurred and there was plenty of whispering in the hallways, he said. But the folks in the Palm unit are focused on their mission and have largely been segregated to the point where internal turmoil hasn't affected them. "It doesn't really impact us much," he said. "From inside the Palm GBU, it's not something we pay too much attention to."

A video clip from this conversation will be available later this week. We’ll embed it when the conference organizers release it. A livestream of the events is being made available by conference organizers.

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