HP Palm's Jon Rubinstein talked about working at Apple and Palm, two hardware and software makers who found themselves the victim of mismanagement in evolving markets.
SAN FRANCISCO -- HP Palm's Jon Rubinstein has a unique
resume, working for two companies he acknowledged "lost their way,"
he told the crowd at the Web 2.0 Summit here Nov. 16.
Those would be Apple, where he helped bring the iPod
music player to market, and Palm, where as CEO he presided over the sale of the
smartphone maker to HP this year in a deal that
closed July 1
Rubinstein told his tale at the behest of show host John
Battelle in a keynote interview Nov. 16.
Rubinstein said he joined Steve Jobs to run hardware
engineering at the failed high-end computer venture NeXT in 1990.
NeXt "ran out of time," Rubinstein said, adding that isn't unusual for a company trying to innovate. The software ended up
becoming the foundation of Mac OS.
Rubinstein then joined Apple in 1997. "It was a
disaster," he said, adding that he arrived six months before Jobs
retuned to resurrect the company's fortunes. "It had lost its way, it had lost
its focus, innovation. It was really terrible."
After playing with music players he found to be
"awful," he and his team built the iPod. Under Rubinstein, the iPod
became a worldwide sensation; it is the top-selling music player of all time.
But Rubinstein did the unthinkable, especially viewed
through the lens of Jobs.
He retired from Apple in 2006 only to resurface at
Palm in 2007 to run the struggling company, which was itself troubled
riding the coattails of its popular Treo smartphone. There he helped
bring an integrated OS stack to market to rival Apple's iPhone.
"I'm definitely off the [Jobs'] Christmas list," Rubinstein joked.
"But you have to remember that Palm in many ways created this space,"
with the Treo.
"By birthright, Palm should have been very successful... but it lost
its way. It's a very similar story to what happened with Apple."
The circle was complete; Rubinstein joined the troubled
Apple to help turn it around, retired, then returned to do the same at HP.
Rubinstein helped usher the Palm Pre to market but that
device didn't catch on with consumers, whipped as it was by Apple's popular iPhone at AT&T and Google
Android smartphones at Verizon Wireless.
Palm eventually entered into negotiations to be acquired
by HP. Now Rubinstein, who works for Todd Bradley in Palm's global
business unit at HP, is bringing the webOS 2.0-based Pre 2 to market from the
parent company where he began his computer engineering career 30 years ago.
The smartphone, due next year in the United States, includes
Just Type search features and multitasking he said should give Apple
iPhone, Google Android and Windows Phone 7 devices a run for their money.
However, he stressed HP and Palm wouldn't stop at
smartphones. HP will put webOS 2.0 on tablet computers, printers and other
devices. "We've got some other ideas in the pipeline we're not ready to
talk about yet," he said.
Ironically, Rubinstein will be bringing Pre 2 and HP
webOS tablets to a market where the iPhone and Apple's iPad is already dominant.
WebOS devices will also have to compete with the Android army of smartphones
But he doesn't want people to overstate the competitive dynamic
between Apple and Palm, arguing that this is a "huge market" and there
is plenty of room for several successful players.