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Rubinstein: No Walled Garden for webOS at HP

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 8:08am
Maisie Ramsay

SAN DIEGO—HP may allow outside companies to manufacture wireless devices running webOS, former Palm CEO and current HP webOS boss Jon Rubinstein said at Qualcomm's Uplinq conference Wednesday.

"HP is more than willing to partner with one or two special companies," Rubinstein said during a discussion with journalist Kevin Maney, adding HP would be willing to partner with an outside company that "brings something special to the ecosystem."

Rubinstein, a former Apple executive, said webOS was "not a walled garden." However, Rubinstein stopped short of announcing that HP planned to go open source with webOS, saying that HP was "not in the licensing business."

HP, which bought Palm and its webOS platform last spring, is getting ready to put its mobile devices before consumers. The company recently came out with its first handset since the acquisition closed, the pint-sized HP Veer, and plans to launch the HP Pre3 smartphone and HP TouchPad tablet soon.

The Pre3 smartphone and the TouchPad will hit shelves this summer, Rubinstein said, but declined to provide specific details around pricing and availability.

Rubinstein's heritage at Apple was apparent during his presentation. Like Apple's line of iOS products, Rubenstein laid out a portrait of webOS devices that would all run the same platform and be made by the same manufacturer, in this case HP.

HP's webOS devices will be integrated with each other in some of the same ways that Apple's iPad and iPhone work together. For example, Pre3 users will be able to share information with the TouchPad with the company's touch-to-share technology.

Rubinstein also said HP was striving to create a "unified experience across devices" using webOS, so that the end-user experience for the Pre3 would be similar to that on the Veer and TouchPad despite the differences in sizes.

HP is getting into the gadget market at a tough time. Competition for smartphones and tablets is rampant, and the company will have to fight Google's Android operating system for market share – no small task.

Rubinstein admitted that HP and webOS were "the underdogs" but predicted the company's products would succeed in the long run on the strength of its content, device ecosystem and user experience.

"I think you're going to see a lot of devices fail," Rubinstein said, citing the dozens of tablets that launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. "It's going to be about more than the device itself."

Rubinstein said HP had conducted "extensive outreach" to the developer community to build apps for webOS in an effort to make the platform more competitive, and emphasized that webOS was an easy platform to develop for, since it uses some of the same tools as Web developers.

However, he eschewed the idea that the platform could not compete without a base of apps on the scale of iOS or Android. "Apps are absolutely critically important, but in the longer term, it's content that's important," Rubinstein said, citing the volume of books available through Amazon's Kindle app.

Palm is just beginning to emerge from a quiet period after its buyout by HP. Before the acquisition, Palm lacked the scale it needed to compete, Rubinstein said. Now the company is back, and to hear Rubinstein tell it, it's ready to fight for its place in the wireless market.

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