Jon Rubinstein, the man who helped oversee Palm’s move to a new webOS operating system and later sold the company to Hewlett-Packard, has quietly exited the company. It’s an unsurprising move, but one that further signals the end of the Palm era at HP. The departure, first reported by AllThingsD, was expected, considering HP’s decision to open source webOS and get out of the mobile hardware market. The writing was already on the wall when Rubinstein in July was moved into a product innovation role within the Personal Systems Group at HP.
HP bought Palm in 2010 for $1.2 billion in a bid to revive its moribund mobile business. The move hinged on a successful integration of webOS, Palm’s next generation operating system that had already been deployed in the Palm Pre and Pixi. After integrating Palm, HP finally moved forward with webOS, launching the TouchPad tablet last year before beating a hasty exit in the webOS hardware space. The webOS unit dangled in the wind as new CEO Meg Whitman debated the future of webOS before ultimately deciding to open source it.
Rubinstein, who helped develop the iPod at Apple, originally came to Palm and shepherded the development of webOS, ultimately replacing Ed Colligan as CEO just days after the launch of the Palm Pre in 2009. The acquisition by HP gave many hope that webOS would finally get the necessary resources to compete against iOS and Android. But the platform never gained enough adoption from consumers and developers.
Now with many of the Palm team already headed for the door, it was just a matter of time for Rubinstein to follow. In an interview with the Verge, he said that after Palm’s acquisition, he told HP that he would stay on for 12 to 24 months and was already prepared to move out of his role following the launch of the TouchPad. He said he was now on a much needed break and was proud of his work on webOS, which he said could still be appealing to companies in search of their own operating system.
What we accomplished in four and half years has been amazing. And I don’t think people understand that — what we did accomplish during that time frame was amazing. You know, webOS got its early start about six months before I got to Palm. They were just getting going. It wasn’t what webOS is today. It was something different. We evolved it along the way, but it was an enormous amount of work for a large group of people for many, many years… Of course. I put blood, sweat, and tears into this thing. And look, I think it had tremendous potential, if people put some real effort into it, I think you will see a resurgence of devices at some point.
Rubinstein said he doesn’t know what he will do next though it will likely be in mobile. It’s not uncommon for CEOs of acquired companies to leave after some time fulfilling contractual agreements, but I’m guessing Rubinstein hoped his big project would be in a different place by the time he departed.