When HP bought Palm for $1.2 billion last year, the computing powerhouse named Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein as head of the webOS division. It was a natural appointment, especially considering that Rubinstein was the visionary behind the mobile operating system.
Fast forward a year and HP is changing its strategy. HP says it's accelerating the global expansion of webOS -- and the company has selected a new executive to lead the charge.
HP has appointed Stephen DeWitt as senior vice president and general manager of its webOS global business unit. Rubinstein is shifting over to a product innovation role within the company's Personal Systems Group.
HP's webOS Intentions
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund IT, isn't surprised by the move. In his view, vendors in commodity technology markets wrestle with the challenge of clearly differentiating their products in the marketplace. When every vendor has access to the same CPUs, storage technologies, operating systems and applications, he said, oftentimes the vendor with the prettiest or cheapest box wins the sale.
"With the Palm acquisition HP believes there is a way to leverage webOS to allow the company to make significantly different offerings in the personal systems space than its competitors," King said. "I am not sure how well that's going to work for them. Palm was a company in decline when HP acquired it, and I'm not sure that a significant portion of the market is clamoring for PCs and laptops that have webOS add-ins."
Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, and a member of the executive board, spun Rubinstein's reappointment as a move to position the right leaders in the right roles to drive long-term growth for webOS.
"Stephen DeWitt has a proven ability to build and scale organizations into global, multibillion-dollar operations, and I am confident that he will take webOS to the next level," Bradley said. "At the same time, we continue to leverage the core strengths of Silicon Valley icon Jon Rubinstein to apply his considerable talents across the PSG portfolio."
HP was quick to point out that DeWitt has dramatically improved PSG's profitability and share position in the Americas region since coming to HP in 2008. He is succeeded by Stephen DiFranco, head of the Solutions Partners Organization for the Americas region at HP.
DeWitt's Track Record
DeWitt, who has been leading the PSG Americas region at HP, is where the buck now stops for all things webOS, including engineering, research and development, sales, marketing and go-to-market support.
DeWitt enters the new role with a full plate. He's charged with spearheading the creation of a fully integrated, global developer and independent software vendor program to deliver new consumer and business applications. His team also will create a dedicated mobility practice with HP's partner community, with the goal of delivering consumer and solutions globally.
"As part of our investment in the future of webOS, we are working in lock step with the developer community, our channel partners and the start-up community to create an application ecosystem that delivers on HP's mobile connectivity strategy," said DeWitt.
No sour grapes from Rubinstein, who was named senior vice president for Product Innovation in the Personal Systems Group at HP. HP said the firm would leverage his passion for building exceptional consumer products and his long history of driving game-changing innovation, such as webOS. Rubinstein said, "With webOS under Stephen DeWitt's proven leadership, I'm looking forward to my new role and driving further innovation for webOS and other PSG products."