HP's Rubinstein talks up webOS, hints at licensing

SAN DIEGO--With the Hewlett-Packard Veer smartphone in one hand and the TouchPad tablet in the other, Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president and general manager of Palm's global business unit at HP, talked about how his company's operating system will differentiate itself from others in the market.

Speaking at the Uplinq conference hosted here by Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Rubinstein noted that the Veer with its 2.6-inch screen is a smaller form factor than most new smartphones--an attempt by HP to "veer" in the other direction. HP launched the Veer with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) on May 15 for $99.99 with a two-year contract. Rubinstein also said that the TouchPad will be commercially available this summer, but refused to provide further details such as a launch date or pricing information.

Rubinstein said HP's position as a PC maker will give it strength in the tablet market, which is becoming very crowded with new entrants. He added that companies that have both a software and hardware play will better positioned than those that are making devices using multiple operating systems. Nevertheless, he kept open the possibility of HP licensing its webOS platform to other firms.

"Our model is not to be in the licensing business. We believe there is strength in being able to build the ecosystem ... but HP is willing to partner with one or two special companies." What exactly would make a company special? According to Rubinstein, it would be a firm that was willing to take the webOS platform and "bring value to it."

Rubinstein used his stage time to showcase webOS and demonstrate how users will be able to move from one device to the other by simply tapping the Veer to the TouchPad. When the two devices touch, content such as a Web page moves from one to the other. "Our goal was to give you a way to view and manage content across multiple devices and have a seamless way to interact with that," Rubinstein said.

The Veer is HP's attempt to reintroduce webOS to the market after Palm's first wave of smartphones, including the Pre and Pixi, fell flat. Those devices did not fare well in the market despite praise for webOS and its multitasking capabilities and user interface.  

Rubinstein also said that HP is aggressively working with developers to get more applications for webOS, which he said will have about 7,000 applications when the TouchPad launches.

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