When HP announced its purchase of ailing Palm last year, analysts saw it as a sign that the long-time PC behemoth was trying to remove the Microsoft shackles and offer for the first time a pure-play platform of its own making. This week, those plans were confirmed: Starting next year, all of HP's computers will dual-boot between Windows and webOS, the mobile OS it acquired as part of the Palm deal.
HP CEO Leo Apotheker announced the plan to employees in a January 31 meeting and reiterated it publicly to Business Week this week. "HP has lost its soul," he said this week. "The first thing I wanted to do when I joined HP was listen to the people. The rank and file usually know about all the shortcomings."
Apotheker said that webOS would be "a massive platform" that spanned a number of device types, including phones, tablets, and PCs. Today, webOS runs on Palm smartphones, and HP this year will ship a webOS-based iPad competitor called the TouchPad.
By pushing webOS onto HP's best-selling PCs as well, Apotheker hopes to ignite app-developer enthusiasm for the platform. Currently, webOS is an also-ran in this regard, with its 6,000 available apps paling in comparison with the 350,000 apps on Apple iOS and 250,000 on Google Android. But webOS even lags behind other also-rans: Microsoft's stumbling Windows Phone platform is already closing in on the 10,000-app mark, and it surpassed webOS within just a couple of months in the market.
Of course, a successful webOS doesn't just threaten Windows Phone. By bundling webOS on PCs, HP is also threatening Windows. And Windows, like the devices on which it runs, is coming under increasing attack from non-traditional OSs that were originally designed for mobile phones. Apple's iOS, also found on the iPad, is the obvious example. Analysts expected Apple to sell 35 million iPads this year—a figure that is about 10 percent the size of the entire PC market in 2011.
Apotheker's bold strategy is perhaps best seen as a repudiation of the conservative Mark Hurd years, during which HP slashed costs and, along the way, killed employee morale. (Hurd was ousted as HP's CEO after an expenses scandal.) "We have cut enough costs," Apotheker said. "People need to be a little more empowered in this place."
The strategy is also an affront to Microsoft generally. Although HP's biggest partner does make Windows Phone separately from Windows today, the software giant has recently expressed a renewed plan for "Windows everywhere," and the next version of Windows—currently code-named Windows 8—is being rearchitected to run on a variety of device types, including phones and tablets. It's likely that HP will be shipping its dual-booting PCs before Windows 8 arrives, however.