HP Flexes WebOS Muscles, Snubs Microsoft On Windows Tablets

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In one of his boldest pronouncements since joining HP last November, CEO Leo Apotheker told Fortune this week that HP doesn't intend to release new Windows 7 tablets anytime soon. "HP smartphones and tablets will be running WebOS, only WebOS, at least that's for the near future, that's the plan," Apotheker in an interview published Monday.

While it's premature to interpret HP's decision to focus exclusively on WebOS tablets as a sign of strain in its Microsoft partnership, there's no denying that mobile industry competition is a notoriously savage beast. At the very least, we could be witnessing a shift in how HP and Microsoft compete in the mobile space.

Apotheker's assessment was frank but hardly surprising. Windows 7 isn't designed for tablets, despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, and partners have spent much of the past year clamoring for the software giant to rethink its tablet OS strategy.

HP's lone Windows 7 tablet, the $799 enterprise focused Slate 500, is still in short supply seven months after hitting the market. HP isn't talking about the cause of the shortage, but it reportedly has more to do with limited production than with sizzling sales. Microsoft, for its part, would certainly be citing Slate 500 sales as evidence of Windows 7's suitability for tablets if they'd reached a meaningful level.

Although Microsoft says the next version of Windows will include ARM support and be better suited to tablets, it's not expected to arrive until next year. So it's understandable that HP would want to pump the brakes on rolling out additional Windows 7 tablets.

"Microsoft has pretty much acknowledged they’re not going to be a player in the tablet arena until the next version of Windows with its ability to run on ARM based CPUs," said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Northern Computer Technologies, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder.

But is HP giving up on Windows tablets for good? Apotheker told Fortune that WebOS shouldn't be a concern to Microsoft. "It's not a threat at all. Microsoft doesn't view it as a threat, and we don't intend it to be a threat," he said.

Still, the fact remains that HP spent $1.2 billion to acquire Palm and WebOS and now enjoys a level of mobile platform autonomy that only Apple can claim. And some HP partners feel it's high time for the company to start leveraging this newfound autonomy.

NEXT: Partners Call HP WebOS A Strong Mobility Play

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