Jon Rubinstein: Palm independent within HP, can still be competitive
HP Senior Vice President and Palm Global Business Unit General Manager Jon Rubinstein, formerly CEO of the independent Palm, Inc. (let’s see all that on a business card) sat down with the Wall Street Journal’s Kara Swisher for a chat about Palm at the Dive Into Mobile conference in San Francisco. The discussion was wide-ranging, touching on where Palm went wrong, where Palm is going, and how things work with the new HP overlords.
The discussion started with Swisher touching back on something that struck us as surprising from the last time she and Rubinstein were on stage: the then Palm CEO had not even touched an iPhone. Apparently that has since changed, with Rubinstein noting that many Palm employees use iPhones, and the iPhone is reviewed by their competitive analysis groups. But yes, he has now touched and used an iPhone. It’s not something that ever became his primary device, as he doesn’t “want to be tainted by another experience. I want to come at this with a fresh perspective and I think what we’re seeing now in this industry is that everyone is copying the iPhone.”
But would having used an iPhone saved Palm? We doubt it. In fact, Rubinstein admitted that though webOS and the Pre were great products, “market moved too fast and when we looked forward we saw a very clear way to where we could get the company to profitability, but we didn’t see a way to get it to scale.”
Scale is where HP came in, providing the moneybags and connections needed to scale Palm’s product pipeline and development. Even though there were multiple companies that expressed interest in acquiring Palm, Rubinstein said that HP was the suitor that made the most sense: “They didn’t have a great mobile strategy, but they had the means to get webOS to scale.”
Any acquisition has its troubles, and though the Mark Hurd scandal roiled the technology media for days on end, it was of little consequence to Palm, having just joined with HP fairly recently. The integration of Palm into HP has resulted in significant autonomy, with Palm taking advantage of HP’s resources like finance and HR and divisions like HP Labs, while Palm’s engineering team “is essentially separate.” Apparently there wasn’t too much delay with the restarting of Palm product development post-acquisition, with Rubinstein saying that “as soon as we aligned our roadmaps, we were off and running.”
The intent is to utilize HP’s scale to bring webOS to a wider audience. Rubinstein noted that only some 20%-30% of mobile phone users worldwide have a smartphone, leaving room for tremendous growth (and allaying any fears of Palm leaving the smartphone space). He thinks that HP and Palm “still have the chance to become a major player if we do the right things.” Rubinstein also still sees the mobile game as a 3-5 player arena. Currently, it’s RIM, Apple, and Android as the top three, with a smattering below from Microsoft, Palm, Nokia, and a few others.
Part of those “right things” seems to be integration, with Rubinstein noting that today users are carrying multiple devices (smartphone, tablet, and computer) instead of the predicted convergence of everything into one. What’s important is “how do these devices interact so there’s a seamless user experience across devices. The ability to have a unified experience on all your devices is very important.” Take from that what you will, but we can envision a pretty cool future where the interaction between our webOS phone, webOS tablet, webOS printer, and webOS toaster is all sorts of awesome.
Prompted during the Q&A by Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky, Rubinstein touched on the fact that there isn’t anything new (apart from webOS 2.0) coming from Palm right now, saying that “Right now we are really quiet cause we don't have anything we can talk about.” But he did mention that some of Palm’s upcoming cloud integration features “are going to be really profound,” and that there will be plenty of real talk about real new products next year.
So, no, there weren’t any surprise announcements, and we weren’t expecting any. But it’s good to see Rubinstein out and about, and to hear that things are going well at Palm (though to be honest, we heard that a lot when things really weren’t). What will the future bring? Stay tuned to find out.
Source: All Things D