HP announced Thursday that it will discontinue its webOS line of devices, which includes the HP Veer 4G, the HP Touchpad and the yet-to-be-released HP Pre 3 smartphone. This doesn't necessarily mean that webOS is going away, however. The company said that it will continue to look for ways to use and optimize the webOS platform.
HP purchased Palm in April 2010 in a $1.2 billion acquisition which finalized in June. At the time, Palm's Pre and Pixi smartphones were struggling, but tech watchers seemed to agree that HP had the resources to lift WebOS off the ground. HP's intention was to further develop the webOS platform and continue to release Pre smartphones and expand the platform to other products, including tablets and printers. Under Palm, the software had earned praise for its smooth multitasking and social network integration.
HP held a large press conference in San Francisco and announced its first webOS products. Critics weren't thrilled with the Veer, a tiny WebOS smartphone that launched in May, and HP never managed to ship the Pre 3 after announcing it in February. The Touchpad tablet, which was finally released in June, was met with heavy criticism for its buggy, slow performance, poor app selection and clunky hardware. What once seemed like a potential threat to the iPhone ended up being a complete dud for HP.
Shortly after its release, HP offered "instant rebates" on both TouchPad models. The TouchPad reportedly bombed at retail, even after the price cut.
HP's press release doesn't say that WebOS is dead. The wording instead suggests that the company will find some ways to extract value from its $1.2 billion Palm purchase, even if phones and tablets are off the table. In fact, according to a report yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, HP plans to expand webOS to household appliances and automobiles.
"We're looking at expanding the base and bringing to the webOS community an ecosystem that inspires developers out there," Stephen DeWitt, in charge of webOS for HP, told the Wall Street Journal. He said there was considerable interest in the platform from these manufacturers, but did not confirm any specific companies.
The company also confirmed a rumor that it will spin off all or part of its personal computer business and purchase U.K.-based software company Autonomy Corp. That, in itself, is a huge shift for HP, whose CEO Leo Apotheker said in January that he wanted the company to eventually become "cool" like Apple.
The question now is whether HP--or its spinoff PC company--has a backup plan for phones and tablets. It seems unlikely that HP will ignore these markets entirely. My guess is that HP will turn back to its longtime software partner Microsoft to build phones and tablets based on Windows software.
We'll find out more this afternoon at HP's conference call with the financial community today starting at 2 p.m. PT / 5 p.m. ET.
The TouchPad reportedly bombed at retail, even after a $100 price cut.