Chief WebOS Evangelist Rubinstein Leaves HP

Jon Rubinstein, Hewlett-Packard's chief evangelist for WebOS and one of Silicon Valley's most renowned engineers, has left the company, HP confirmed Friday.

Rubinstein, known as the father of the Apple iPod, started his career at HP in the mid-1980s and was CEO of Palm when HP acquired the company for $1.2 billion in July 2010. When he rejoined HP, Rubinstein made a 12- to 24-month commitment to stay at the company, and he has helped deliver a number of key products since then, an HP spokesperson told CRN.

Rubinstein has no future plans to work elsewhere at this time, according to the HP spokesperson. "Jon has fulfilled his commitment to HP and we wish him well," the spokesperson said.

Rubinstein's role at HP has been murky since last July, when he was moved out of the company's mobile devices unit and appointed senior vice president of product innovation in HP's Personal Systems Group. In the meantime, HP has discontinued the TouchPad, shut down its WebOS hardware business and decided to open source WebOS and the Enyo framework.

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HP CEO Meg Whitman, in an interview earlier this week at HP's Palo Alto, Calif.-based headquarters, acknowledged that these developments haven't created an ideal situation for Rubinstein, who led the development of WebOS and remains its staunchest advocate.

"I've got a lot of respect for Jon. But as you know, Palm didn't work out the way he had hoped. Obviously, the [TouchPad] tablets didn’t work out the way he had hoped. That team has been through a lot, as you might imagine," Whitman said.

NEXT: More Uncertainty For WebOS

Last July, in an internal e-mail to HP employees in response to a wave of negative TouchPad reviews, Rubinstein touted the advantages of "ecosystem of services, applications and devices connected seamlessly by WebOS" and noted that Mac OS X was also initially panned after its launch.

In his first stint at HP, Rubinstein worked in the company's manufacturing engineering division and assisted in the design of its Unix workstations. After leaving in 1986 for a position at Ardent Computer, a Silicon Valley based supercomputer startup, Rubinstein in 1990 joined Next Computer, the company that Steve Jobs started after being ousted from Apple.

Rubinstein moved over to Apple in 1997 as senior vice president of hardware engineering. After leading development of the iMac and iBook product lines, he oversaw the team of hardware and software engineers that created the iPod, earning the nickname 'The Podfather' in the process. He resigned from Apple in 2006 but stayed on as a consultant until joining Palm the following year.

"Jon has done an excellent job as a member of Apple’s senior management team, as well as building our world-class iPod engineering team and running our hardware engineering team prior to that," the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a 2005 statement announcing Rubinstein's departure.

Although Rubinstein had already been moved from the WebOS business unit, his departure casts more uncertainty around the future of WebOS. HP in recent months has seen a steady stream of mobile sales and engineering talent jump ship to other companies, including Apple and Intel.

Meanwhile, Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president and general manager of HP's WebOS global business unit, is staying with the company. DeWitt took over for Rubinstein when HP created the WebOS global business unit last July, but his role has also been unclear in the wake of HP's WebOS moves.

DeWitt will continue playing an unspecified yet important role at HP, Whitman told CRN.

"He's not going away," Whitman said. "He's been working on a couple of special projects for me as I came in, around sales force and go-to-market, which he knows incredibly well. I think we've got a really good assignment for Stephen, so stay tuned."