The HP TouchPad was such a disaster that the company canceled it 49 days after it launched. But that was under its previous CEO, Leo Apotheker. Apparently new CEO Meg Whitman wants to take another shot.
In what is the latest sideways vertical move for HP on it’s WebOS platform, TechCrunch has reported that Meg Whitman and board member Marc Andreessen have told the site that the HP will manufacture a WebOS tablet, perhaps in 2012, but definitely in 2013. Whitman has said previously that the company is committed to the tablet market.
An HP spokesman, asked to confirm the report, said that a WebOS tablet would be made only if the market was “viable”. He said that he preferred to focus on the decision to release WebOS as open source, which will give it an immortality that it otherwise might not have.
In August this year HP anounced that it was pulling out of consumer electronics all together, August 19,2011: Hewlett-Packard is pulling out of it’s consumer PC business, the company chose its Q3 earnings call to drop the bomb. The tech behemoth under Mark Hurd’s watch focused on splashing out $7 billion to buy Palm, 3COM, and 3PAR. Hewlett-Packard in a complete 180 is now ditching both the Personal Computer and Palm-Mobile Computing business, oh, and they’ve signed on the line to buy Autonomy for $11 billion.
Whitman said the company was likely to be done with smartphones, but tablets are definitely on the table.
“In the near term what I would imagine – and this could change, in full disclosure – is I would think tablets, I do not believe we will be in the smartphone business again.”
Before we launch into a what HP’s up to, it’s worth remembering that all this is likely – based on the history of HP’s desicion making process – more likely to change in the next 90 days.
The schizophrenic decision process coming out of HP on it’s WebOS operating system and tablet hardware continues, as HP reportedly plans one last fire sale for the tablet on Sunday, in what has become a long and winding road. Months after the TouchPad was launched in March using HP’s WebOS operating system, HP decided to kill it in August, as part of a decision to kill the WebOS hardware business after sales failed to meet expectations. But after HP discounted the TouchPad to $99, sales bagan to take off, even prompting HP to make another batch.
And if you thought that was the end of the discussion, hold your breath. Whitman and Andreessen also told TechCrunch that HP plans a tablet based on Windows 8 for 2012.
When asked whether HP will continue building WebOS hardware, Whitman said: “The answer to that is yes but what I can’t tell you is whether that will be in 2012 or not.”
“But we will use webOS in new hardware, but it’s just going to take us a little longer to reorganize the team in a quite different direction than we’ve been taking it in the past.”
Just to make thing crystal clear, an HP spokesman, backpedaled from Whitman’s position, saying that the possibility that HP could manufacture a WebOS tablet was “viable” and that it “could happen” – not that it would.
“We’re winding down the WebOS hardware business and leaving the option down the road for WebOS-based products,” the HP spokesman said.
As far as WebOS is concerned, HP could reenter the market, especially if other OEMs and developers began creating an ecosystem that HP could tap into, said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. “HP doesn’t want to shut the door on anything,” Moorhead said.
“I think we need to be in the tablet business, and we’re certainly going to be there with Windows 8,” Whitman said during a conference in late October. “We’re going to make a run at this tablet business“
Not to let itself be outdone, by itself, HP also annonced this week that it has decided to release its webOS operating system under and Open Source license, retaining the patents for themselves instead of selling off the ICAP/IP to a buyer.
HP is said to have consulted Red Hat and may look to create something similar to the Fedora Project in terms of organizational structure, where there would be strong oversight and it would prevent additional “forking” of the project, a problem that WebOS’s primary Open Source competitor, Android, is experiencing lately.
It’s presently unclear who will manage the project from within HP. While WebOS is an excellent operating system, there is the issue of developer mindshare. Right now, Android and Apple’s iOS have the market share of attention. Getting developers. who are currently making good money from Android and iOS apps to devote time and energy to native WebOS applications is going to be a serious challenge.
ZDnet’s Jason Perlow writes: ”As webOS and Android are both based on the Linux kernel and a number of userspace libraries for the core OS functionality, I would think it would make some sense if HP and Google could come to some sort of arrangement where the core of both operating systems could be standardized, much like the LSB exists as a common framework for several x86 Linux distributions.
Android already deviates from the standard Linux kernel to some extent, and that’s been somewhat of an issue for some time.
There’s a bunch of reasons why a standardization effort between Android and webOS is a good idea. For starters, there’s all the Android NDK stuff that could be easily moved over to webOS. The NDK (native C++ libraries) is of particular interest because a lot of Android games are written in it.
If the kernel, the NDK and a certain set of core libraries was “standardized” between Android and WebOS, it would essentially create a single development target for Android and webOS games. And we know that games drives a ton of commercial application activity on both Android and iOS“
If anything HP seems more confused than it was in August, having made the definative decision to exit mobile? Can HP be a consumer and an enterprise company? Lets not lose sight of what made HP the behemoth it currently is, or was, mid to late last year. Whitman believes that the company can continue to do both and says that the company’s current strength is that it is able to be successful in both product areas. “If you ask any guy on the street about what HP is known for, it would be computers,” she says.
Whitman admitted that the company had spent much of the second half of 2011 considering whether to sell the portfolio, but said keeping and renewing WebOS was best for the industry.
She added: “We looked at a whole bunch of opportunities, right after the mid-August announcement and the team here said ‘what were the alternatives?’ Wind down? Sell the portfolio? Run it like we did before, but better?
“As we looked at all the alternatives, this seemed to be the one that made the most sense for the industry, for the community, for the developer community.”