HP Replaces Jon Rubinstein as Head of webOS

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HP announced Monday that the company has replaced former Apple vice president Jon Rubinstein as the head of the company’s webOS platform, and that Mr. Rubinstein is being bumped to a “product innovation role.” The move comes in the wake of the rollout of the first webOS media tablet, the HP TouchPad, which has been met with waves of overwhelmingly negative criticism.

HP VP Jon Rubinstein
HP VP John Rubinstein

Mr. Rubinstein left Apple in 2006 with a fair amount of publicity and took over Palm Inc. as CEO. There he oversaw the development of webOS as a next-generation smartphone operating system for Palm.

Shortly after the first webOS smartphones didn’t set the industry on fire, however, Mr. Rubinstein oversaw the sell of his company to HP, where he became the vice president overseeing the division. The HP TouchPad was a hotly anticipated result of the acquisition, one that pared Palm’s software expertise with HP’s hardware know-how.

The result failed to light the world on fire, again. Critics complained about the TouchPad’s form factor, sluggish performance, and glitchy software, even while praising some of the company’s interface innovations. That led to Mr. Rubinstein giving his (now-former) webOS team a pep-letter comparing webOS to Mac OS X in terms of its potential to shake up the industry.

Be that as it may, HP announced Monday that it had appointed Stephen DeWitt as senior vice president and general manager of its webOS global business unit, which is Mr. Rubinstein’s old position.

According to HP, “Jon Rubinstein, the visionary behind webOS, will assume a product innovation role within the Personal Systems Group (PSG) at HP.”

In HP’s press release, both changes are being cast as aggressive moves to help “drive innovation, scale and growth of webOS.” The company’s main fluff quote, however, makes it clear that HP feels the moves are necessary.

Todd Bradley, a member of the Executive Board at HP and executive vice president of the Personal Systems Group, said, “With the successful debut of our first wave of webOS-based products, we are drawing on our deep executive bench to position the right leaders in the right roles to accelerate the long-term growth of webOS.” [Emphasis added - Editor]

Mr. Rubinstein is retaining an VP title, however, as he will become senior vice president for Product Innovation in the Personal Systems Group.

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There can only be one captain on a ship.
WebOS is entering turbulent waters.


Ugh…They really do need to get their act in gear already.

Ross Edwards

Somehow I don’t think Apple would sack a guy just because v1.0 didn’t feed the five thousand.  Typical short-sighted executive incompetence.


If J.R. got sacked over the lackluster sales of WebOS devices, it’s probably due to him not meeting some specific ‘performance metric’ that he was shouldered with when he took the veep job at HP.

BTW: “Mr. Rubinstein oversaw the sale of his company to HP.” There, fixed that for ya’.

Bryan Chaffin

Ross, Apple fired Mark Papermaster after version 1 of iPhone 4, his first and only iteration of the device.

I don’t think the situations are entirely analogous, but that was a scenario where Steve was unwilling to give the executive they fought tooth and nail to get from IBM a chance to better fit in at Apple.


Big mistake, is my feeling. Anybody else will screw up Rubenstein’s vision. This is where they loose that Apple DNA that made web os very cool…


what they should have done is put some of that legendary H-P engineering behind the hardware… leave the software Guru where he belongs.


That legendary H-P engineering had been gutted, courtesy of Carly Fiorina.  She really did a number on H-P and I really feel bad for Bill and David.


The iPhone and iPod touch, for all their good qualities, lack keys or buttons, which makes many games not nearly as enjoyable as they would be on the PSP or Nintendo DS.

HP, on the other hand, makes calculators with keyboards which are outstanding and nearly indestructible.

I’d like to see a WebOS device with real buttons for gaming and/or a quality keyboard reminiscent of HP calculators.

For that matter, I’d like to see a high-quality HP calculator that also runs WebOS.


Buttons? OMG. My 4 year old car is totally touch screen. Buttons? This is the Jetsons generation. Not the Flintstones.


For some insight on why HP fired Jon Rubinstein, I suggest:  http://www.mondaynote.com/2011/07/10/hp?s-tortured-webos-positioning/.  Mr. Rubinstein made one mistake and was the victim of confusion among HP’s most senior managers about the positioning and purpose of the Web OS and Web OS devices .  The mistake was shipping the TouchPad at least six weeks before it was ready, assuming that was Rubinstein’s decision.  Shipping the TouchPad now, in its flawed form, when another six weeks or two months could have corrected those flaws was a grave mistake.  Now, even if HP digs out of this hole, it will be too late, for not only will its moment have passed, the corrected TouchPad will arrive in teeth of iOS 5, the newest iPhone, and probably an updated iPad 2.  Jon certainly learned a lot of things from Steve Jobs, including the dictum that real engineers ship, but he forgot that real engineers and certainly senior executives never ship any half-baked products.

The second cause of Mr. Rubinstein’s fall had little to do with him or his faults but with the turmoil inside HP regarding Web OS.  See Jean-Louis Gass?e, supra.  Leo Apotheker over promised, perhaps because Mr. Rubinstein over promised to him, and left Mr. Rubinstein to deliver, which he didn’t do.  Add that flaw—CEO’s don’t like to be humiliated in public, because lower level execs have them make bold boasts that those execs then don’t deliver—HP’s confusion about what the Web OS should be and who it is for.  Steve Jobs has a great gift for making consumer computing devices that not only please and delight but that on occasion take the consumer to a revolution in design and function; thus, Jobs directs Apple and its products toward the consumer, which, as it turns out, is a pretty good strategy for the enterprise.  Neither Leo Apotheker or any of his senior lieutenants have shown any ability to know and build for the consumer, as Apple can.  And, in case Leo doesn’t know it, the consumer is and is the only market for the Web OS and its devices, if one is interested challenging Apple and emulating, much less exceeding, Apple’s success.


These are all excellent comments on Mr. Rubinstein. I feel this is a mistake by HP. Sure this is the second major product launch failure under his leadership, but OS X and iOS when they were both initially shipped were missing some key features. Both were improved over time. The difference is no one was expecting Apple to shake up the industry with either of those products. They were trail blazing. Rubinstein, HP and every other would be iOS killer is expected to leap frog Apple, and by an order of magnitude better to make a major shake up in consumer mind share, and they simply can’t do it. They cant do it with the software, Design, build quality, or marketing. Apple spent 12 years to get where they are today in all of these areas. Hitting 1 or 2 out of 4 isn’t impressive anymore. The industry doesn’t have the patience to allow Rubinstein to do things in the same evolutionary manner Apple earned for itself as a industry leader.


@dmarcoot:  Agreed. Nobody has yet to leapfrog Apple. The only reason that Android started off so well against the iPhone is that it was put out by Google - the other major technology power house besides Apple. If, for instance, Android had been a Motorola or Samsung project, it wouldn’t have been more than a curiosity to most - at least to start with.


one that pared Palm?s software expertise with HP?s hardware know-how

Perhaps HP should have done more pairing and less paring.


Buttons? OMG. My 4 year old car is totally touch screen. Buttons? This is the Jetsons generation. Not the Flintstones.

Wow, my car still has a steering wheel and break/accelerator pedals. I don’t think I’d want to replace them with a touchscreen just yet.

I don’t know if you’ve ever played a video game using actual hardware controls like buttons and joysticks, but they work really, really well. I spent $25 on the Fling because it actually makes Geometry Wars playable on the iPad. I wish Apple would enable BlueTooth gamepad support on the iPad - then I could just use my PS3 controller…

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