Former Palm CEO Rubinstein out at HP

Jon Rubinstein, who was brought into the fold after Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm, is leaving the company after a failed bid to turn WebOS into a mobile powerhouse.

Former Palm CEO and principal architect of the WebOS platform Jon Rubinstein has left Hewlett-Packard, effective today.

HP's Jon Rubinstein and the TouchPad tablet.
HP's Jon Rubinstein and the TouchPad tablet. James Martin/CNET

Rubinstein is leaving after completing a commitment to stay with HP for 12 to 24 months. All Things D first reported on the departure, and said Rubinstein has no immediate plans.

"Jon has fulfilled his commitment to HP," an HP spokesman told CNET. "We wish him well."

Rubinstein's departure marks the end of an unspectacular run in which he twice attempted, and failed, to turn WebOS into a major mobile platform. In a span of just two years, WebOS had gone from potential iPhone-killer to a dumped open-source project.

Rubinstein, who is best known for his work on the iPod at Apple, was initially brought in as CEO of Palm in 2009 by major shareholder Roger McNamee and his Elevation Partners fund to revive the company's business. At that point, Palm was still reliant upon its older Palm operating system, which had lagged far behind competitors such as iOS and BlackBerry.

The first WebOS phone, the Palm Pre, garnered a lot of buzz when it was first unveiled at CES in 2010, but a long gap between its unveiling and the actual product launch in the summer dulled much of the excitement for the device. Its exclusive carrier partner, Sprint Nextel, was at that time in no position to drive a blockbuster device, as it still struggled with subscriber growth.

The lack of mass adoption meant little interest by developers, just as Android had begun taking off. Even as the Pre and its successor phone, the Pixi, made their way to Verizon Wireless and AT&T, they were merely afterthoughts.

When HP bought Palm in 2010, the company had aspirations to build its own mobile devices using proprietary software. Rubinstein was brought in along with the acquisition to run the business. But he and HP ran into similar problems with the initial smartphone and TouchPad tablet, and ultimately got undercut by CEO Leo Apotheker's plan to shed HP's consumer-centric businesses.

The resulting disruption and the subsequent TouchPad fire sale had largely killed WebOS' brand, and HP ultimately turned it into an open-source project that it oversees. New CEO Meg Whitman has hinted at possibly using the platform in some form down the line.

Updated at 9:36 a.m. PT: to include additional background and response from HP.

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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