Computers

Hewlett-Packard Reorganizes PC Unit to Push WebOS Software


(Bloomberg) — Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest computer maker, is reorganizing its personal-computer division as part of a push to broaden use of the software it gained from the acquisition of Palm Inc.

Jon Rubinstein, Palm’s former chief executive officer, will take charge of product development and innovation for the Personal Systems Group, which encompasses PCs, tablets and smartphones. Senior Vice President Stephen DeWitt will run a new unit responsible for developing and promoting the WebOS computer operating system. Both will report to Todd Bradley, who runs PSG. DeWitt discussed the changes in an interview today.

Hewlett-Packard is counting on the integration of WebOS to differentiate its products from rival machines, including Apple Inc.’s iPad and those using Google Inc.’s Android. Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker said in February that all of the company’s PCs will feature WebOS by the end of next year, a shift away from machines that only run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system.

Rubinstein helped create the iMac and iPod at Apple before becoming Palm’s CEO. He will now be Hewlett-Packard’s senior vice president of product innovation and will work on projects that span the Palo Alto, California-based company, including the printing group, DeWitt said.

“We’re fortunate to have Jon doing that voodoo that he does,” DeWitt said. “He’s going to bring his knowledge, experience and passion for building products across the PSG portfolio.”

Apotheker’s Reorganization

Apotheker is reorganizing business units to revive growth and take back market share after slicing $1 billion from the company’s annual revenue forecast in May. Corporations are “wary” of large-scale information-technology spending amid
concerns about global economic growth, Apotheker said at a July 9 technology conference in Aix-en-Provence, France.

On June 14, Hewlett-Packard said executives in charge of global sales, software and data-center equipment and services would report directly to Apotheker.

Hewlett-Packard bought Palm last year to add mobile devices and software to its product lineup.

DeWitt’s Role

DeWitt, who joined Hewlett-Packard in 2008 from a closely held computer maker named Azul Systems Inc., had been responsible for sales, marketing and operations of personal systems in North America. Stephen DiFranco, a former general manager at Hewlett-Packard, is now a senior vice president, taking DeWitt’s former role. The personal systems group was responsible for $40.7 billion in sales last year.

DeWitt will take charge of engineering, research and development, and sales and marketing for WebOS. Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad tablet computer, which runs on WebOS, went on sale July 1, accompanied by an advertising campaign featuring
Jay-Z and other celebrities.

“It’s critical for us to expand our programs” and entice more developers to create applications for the platform, DeWitt said.

The WebOS operating system includes the ability to run multiple applications at once and lets developers design apps that talk to each other. For example, information from Facebook can be shared in users’ contact lists. It also lessens Hewlett-Packard’s reliance on Microsoft’s Windows software.

‘Kicking the Tires’

Bradley said in an interview that July 1 was a “soft launch” for the TouchPad and that more advertising will commence on July 17. The company also plans to issue a software update for the tablet in about 10 days, he said.

“We’ve had two weeks of kicking the tires at retail,” he said. “We’ve got a phenomenal tablet product.”

Still, the company must compete with Apple’s best-selling iPad tablet and devices running Android software. Hewlett-Packard has “a really good opportunity to become No. 2 in tablets fairly quickly,” Rubinstein said in a June interview.

Hewlett-Packard also is in talks to license the WebOS mobile software to other hardware makers, Apotheker said in an interview in Beijing last month. Samsung Electronics Co. held talks to use WebOS in its smartphones, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Hewlett-Packard lost $1.14, or 3.1 percent, to $35.29 at 4 p.m. on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares have declined 16 percent this year.

With Cliff Edwards and Serena Saitto
Aaron_ricadela_75x75
Ricadela is a reporter for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek in Frankfurt.

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