HP’s Rubinstein Stepping Aside For Product Role; DeWitt Now Leads WebOS


Jon Rubinstein, the former CEO of Palm (NYSE: HPQ) who led the organization through the launch of WebOS and the company’s subsequent sale to HP, is stepping aside to assume a more product-oriented role with HP as Stephen DeWitt, former head of the Americas region for HP’s Personal System Group, takes overall control of the division. The moves come not quite two weeks after HP launched its first WebOS tablet, and a little over a year since Palm officially became part of HP.

DeWitt will be responsible for “engineering, research and development, sales, marketing and go-to-market support” in the WebOS group, HP said in a press release. He’ll report to Todd Bradley, the head of HP’s consumer-focused Personal Systems Group. One of his first tasks will be to increase the visibility and reach of HP’s WebOS developer organization, according to the release.

During his HP career, DeWitt has spent most of his time overseeing the PC group, which is a different beast than WebOS. HP is the leading PC company in the world and a strong partner with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), whereas DeWitt will now be competing directly with the company that was perhaps his best partner last week. But DeWitt has executive experience, having been CEO of two different companies–Cobalt and Azul Systems–in the past, albeit at companies much more enterprise-oriented than WebOS.

Rubinstein is taking on a “product innovation role,” according to the release, and he’ll also continue to report to Bradley. It sounds like he’ll have a broader role than just WebOS-based products and services, although HP was somewhat vague about exactly what Rubinstein will be doing. Rubinstein is a veteran of Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) who played a large part in the creation and development of the iPod, and had only taken control of Palm prior to the HP acquisition when it was clear that former Palm CEO Ed Collgian was what the company needed in trying to reinvent itself around a new operating system.

HP is facing some interesting decisions regarding WebOS over the next several months. Prior to the launch of the TouchPad, executives were praising the tight integration between the hardware and software on the device as a key strength. But HP is also considering licensing WebOS to other hardware companies that might want to make several tweaks on their own behalf.

But one thing is clear from today’s announcement: Palm is officially done as a brand, which is kind of sad. HP announced the group would formally be called the “webOS Global Business Unit,” and said on the HP Palm Blog it would be updating its name. The writing had been on the wall for that move, however, as HP’s February event to event the TouchPad and two new WebOS phones was almost entirely devoid of references to Palm, which along with Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) was one of the pioneers of the smartphone market.

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