HP Committed To WebOS As Enterprise Development Platform

Hewlett-Packard remains committed to its WebOS operating system and development environment as a way to add value to its enterprise business, said HP Chairman Ray Lane and Shane Robison, the company's executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer.

The two also defended their company's decision to exit to exit the tablet PC and smart phone hardware business before an audience of CIOs at the InformationWeek 500 conference, held this week in Dana Point, Calif.

Lane and Robison made their comments in response to questions from Fritz Nelson, senior vice president and editorial director of InformationWeek. InformationWeek is a sister publication of CRN.

Their comments come in the wake of last month's announcement by HP that it will stop manufacturing its TouchPad tablet PC just over six weeks after its launch. HP also said it is discontinuing its Pre3 and Veer smart phones and says it will "explore options" for WebOS.

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The move came almost exactly one year after HP unveiled plans to manufacture the devices.

Lane called WebOS the best commercial application development Web platform in the world, especially compared to Android.

"You cannot develop serious portable applications on Android," Lane said. "Android is a great operations environment for a smart device, but if you want to develop a serious commercial application -- I talk to all the company managers in our portfolio, these entrepreneurs who are building their companies. They want to build on WebOS because they can port it to anything. You can't do that with Android or iOS."

For that reason, HP sees WebOS as a viable operating system, Lane said. "That's the reason we keep that with HP," he said. "We see that as a viable, commercial web development platform. . . . But I don't think we have been loud enough. We have not talked about our intentions with WebOS enough."

HP is not able to say what it will do with WebOS with any certainty, Robison said. However, he said, the development platform on top of WebOS is important to enterprise customers.

"It's important to understand what WebOS really is," he said. "WebOS, the OS itself, is an incredibly efficient Web-oriented operating system. But sitting on top of WebOS is even more important, and that's the development environment called Enyo, for those of you who know WebOS. It is the leading Web app development environment today. We can deploy Web applications on WebOS. We can deploy on top of Android, iOS, or Windows. So what this gives the development community is a common platform for which they can develop applications and deploy them on the operating system of choice."

The problem with WebOS until now was how HP used it, Robison said.

"We were deploying WebOS on Palm smart phones and on a new tablet that was half a generation or a generation behind the iPad," he said. "And so that wasn't going to drive volume."

That hardware strategy, combined with HP's decision to exit the WebOS-based hardware business, led to customer confusion, Lane said.

"I believe there are better competitors than us to produce the devices," he said.

Next: WebOS As An Alternative To Google Android

Lane said that HP's TouchPad tablet PC, when it was launched, was very far behind the competition in terms of shelf space. "And just getting the devices out there, it was very, very tough to compete," he said. "We could have chosen a different direction, just take a billion-dollar or a two-billion-dollar write-off and price it down. When we did price it down, it flew off the shelves. We could have been a price leader."

One CIO in the audience asked Lane and Robison why, after emphasizing the uniqueness of WebOS, HP now appears to have no way to take advantage of it after dropping its TouchPad and smart phones.

Lane said HP is currently in discussions with potential partners who are competitors with Apple and its iOS operating system, and with Google and its Android technology.

"There's a lot of people out there, and a lot of devices, that would like to have WebOS as an alternative to Android," he added. "So you're right. We need the places to put it, and we need to drive volumes so developers have that volume. . . . Without that distribution, the capability is meaningless."

HP's goal is to give WebOS a life of its own as a platform for the industry, especially for enterprises, Robison said.

"Our view is, enterprises are going to develop Web applications as well," he said. "And they're going to deploy them using modern service-based business models. So we'll have a platform for enterprise Web app developers, for consumer Web app developers, that can span all the existing operating system environments. What we're trying to do is come up with a business model and a future for WebOS that's consistent with that."