With sales a fraction of targets, and reviews universally nominating the benchmark iPad as the choice to make, HP has officially nuked its WebOS hardware division - the organisation formerly known as Palm:
In addition, [on Friday] HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.
It was April 2010 when HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion. In these crazy times of quadruple that for one patent portfolio, and twelve times that for another one that also included a smartphone phone hardware company (among other things), this might not seem a lot.
Yet it is still a wad of cash, and last year hopes were really high for HP to take it's 'hardware know-how' and provide Palm's team with the support and engineering it needed to make the much-loved WebOS a success. From the official press release last year:
The combination of HP’s global scale and financial strength with Palm’s unparalleled webOS platform will enhance HP’s ability to participate more aggressively in the fast-growing, highly profitable smartphone and connected mobile device markets. Palm’s unique webOS will allow HP to take advantage of features such as true multitasking and always up-to-date information sharing across applications.
A mere 16 months later, a disastrous Touchpad launch, and that strategy is no more.
HP also announced on Friday the possible spin-off of its PC hardware company, and purchase of UK software firm Autonomy for another $10 billion or so that pretty much cleans out their bank account. All three announcements have people scratching their heads. The stock market and its players didn't like it at all, and HP's shares fell a whopping 20 per cent.
What's going on here? Did HP really just give up on a $1.2 billion purchase after a year? Apparently WebOS will still live on without the hardware aspect: licenced to other manufacturers; printer menus, perhaps? God knows HP's stuff could do with a UX makeover, but that's a sad, if seemingly inevitable demise for the once brilliant Palm.
What about a patent sell off as many analysts and commentators have suggested? Would Palm's designs and IP be worth some dollars? Undoubtedly. Perhaps way more than $1.2 billion (Apple isn't suing HP for it's very similar-looking Touchpad, for example), but that still seems an odd strategy.
What I'm pretty sure about is this story has a long way yet to run.
HP has repeatedly said WebOS is valuable, and there's plenty of very smart, experienced people in the mix to suggest that there's a much bigger strategic play in motion. I read this interview a while back with Stephen DeWitt I came away pretty intrigued. A further interview with DeWitt posted yesterday adds more, and closer inspection of that orignal 2010 press release is really worth reading in full if you're interested.
What is known for sure is that the world's biggest PC maker by volume just completely surrendered its cards in the tablet market. That alone is a fairly stunning conclusion to an absolutely crazy week for the tech industry, and great reading for a tech lover like me.