Former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein left Hewlett-Packard, effective Friday, after fulfilling terms of a 12-24 contractual month stint at the computer giant following HP's $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm and its webOS software in 2010.
"Jon has fulfilled his commitment and we wish him well," HP spokeswoman Mylene Mangalindan told AllThingsD, which first reported the news.
In an interview with the publication, Rubinstein said he had decided to leave HP a few months before the company shipped its ill-fated TouchPad tablet last summer, but stayed on afterward in an advisory role as the future of webOS was debated inside HP. "And now there's a path for webOS and PSG [HP's Personal Systems Group] has its path and it's time for me to move on," he said. "This has been in the works for quite some time."
Rubinstein had faded from view during the past several months, as HP sidelined webOS device sales and then put the platform into limbo before deciding to make it an open source project. In July Stephen DeWitt took charge of HP's webOS global business unit, taking over from Rubinstein. Rubinstein, who was the driving force behind webOS at Palm before HP acquired the company, took over product innovation in the HP Personal Systems Group, which encompassed smartphones, tablets and PCs. "That 'innovation' gig he was given in July was his first step toward the exit," an unnamed former Palm executive with close ties to Rubinstein told AllThingsD in a separate report.
After it discontinued sales of its webOS-powered TouchPad tablet (as well as its smartphone business) in August, HP went through a period of internal turmoil. Leo Apotheker was ousted as CEO and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman was brought into replace him. After months of speculation over what it would do with webOS, HP said in December it would keep webOS but make the operating system open source, allowing developers and others to modify and expand on the platform.
"You know, we always developed Enyo so it could be open sourced because we saw it as a very powerful cross-development platform," Rubinstein said in the AllThingsD interview. "The future is clearly Web-based apps. And some people don't get that, and I certainly understand, but that is the reality. And, frankly, we were way ahead of our time. WebOS is a great piece of work and really it's just beginning."
Rubinstein is perhaps most famous for his work on developing Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod. After he left Apple in 2006, he joined Roger McNamee as a partner in the private equity firm Elevation Partners, a Palm investor. Rubinstein then replaced longtime Palm CEO Ed Colligan in 2009 and spearheaded the development of Palm's new operating system, webOS, which was based on Web standards and focused on multitasking and combining multiple threads of information from contacts and calendars, a process dubbed Synergy. The platform was widely praised by analysts and the technology industry more broadly, and many of its motifs have been adopted by other smartphone platforms.
Palm's first device, the Pre, was sold exclusively by Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), and although it, too, was widely praised, the device was not a major hit on the scale of Apple's iPhone. Palm later added AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) as supporting carriers for its webOS devices, but the gadgets never caught fire with consumers (possibly due to anemic carrier support).
After HP acquired Palm, it introduced new webOS devices including the Veer smartphone through AT&T, but its luck was ultimately no better than Palm's at selling webOS devices.
Rubinstein, 55, said he is going to take a break but said he is not retiring. "I'm going to spend some time with my family and think about what to do next. Who knows what I'll do," he said. "Anything's possible."
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this separate AllThingsD article
- see this The Verge article
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