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HP (NYSE: HPQ) may have resolved one major item on its agenda when it announced last week it would hold on to its PC division; but now it seems to have a new confusion to replace it: the fate of its mobile operating system, WebOS.
Last week, a report emerged that quoted internal HP sources saying they expected the WebOS operation to close by November. But Todd Bradley, the EVP of HP’s personal systems group, has now called the report an “unfounded rumor.”
The original report, from the Guardian (and republished here), noted that staff expect “imminent closure” of the division, which currently employs 500 people. “There’s a 95 percent chance we all get laid off between now and November, and I for one am thinking it’s for the best,” one WebOS worker said.
Well, it looks like that five percent chance could be growing: In an interview with Bloomberg West, Bradley defended WebOS, and said that HP just needs to find the right (read: profitable) way of using those assets.
“The accolades for WebOS are broadly known,” he told Bloomberg. “[But] there are business model issues that we are working through…Our focus with WebOS is how we utilize that phenomenal software and talent in our business,” he told Bloomberg (full interview, in which he also discusses some of the strategic thinking behind keeping the PC division, is embedded below).
He also noted that HP has continued to invest in and update the WebOS software — in fact, pushing through an update the the OS just in the last few days.
On one hand, a move to shut down or sell off WebOS seems obvious, considering that HP earlier this year had already announced that it would be discontinuing its mobile devices business, which includes its Palm handsets and TouchPad tablets. The company has also seen some high-profile executive departures in the WebOS division, the most recent being Richard Kerris, who had been overseeing developer relations and has now moved to Nokia (NYSE: NOK) in a similar role.
On the other hand, HP is clearly reviewing many of its most recent strategic decisions — something Meg Whitman, the new CEO, set out to do when she took up her job in September.
That appears to have given WebOS a stay of execution (even if that sentiment may have not been translated very well to staff expecting the axe in coming weeks). To be clear, it could still mean closure for the division, or a sale, but not necessarily as soon as people thought it would happen.
“I’m leaning the same way as in our PC business,” Bradley told Bloomberg. “Get all the data we can and then make the right decision.”
One other detail that Bradley touched on: it sounds like tablets are not out of the picture yet, either. “Tablets are one segment of a large personal computing platform,” he said. “Tablets…have very unique capabilities.”