Ina Fried

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HP Pulls Plug on webOS Hardware, Leaves OS Future in Doubt

In a dramatic turn of events, Hewlett-Packard said on Thursday that it will stop selling hardware based on the webOS it acquired from Palm.

As part of its broad statement on Thursday regarding plans to consider spinning out its PC business, HP said “that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones.”

Regarding the future of webOS, the company offered little certainty, saying only, “HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.”

HP acquired webOS with its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm a year ago, promising to use the software in all manner of devices from phones and tablets to PCs and printers.

Despite the deal, HP was slow to bring out new products based on WebOS, and the existing Pre and Pixi devices lost significant share, both in the market and in the minds of consumers and developers.

The company touted the launch of the TouchPad last month as the first in a series of steps that would re-establish the operating system as a serious player in the mobile space. However, the product received lackluster reviews and poor sales, leading to a series of price cuts.

Until Thursday, HP had declined comment, though it acknowledged in one of its myriad press releases today that “the devices have not met internal milestones and financial targets.”

HP had said in June that it was open to licensing webOS, but at the time suggested that it was mainly looking for partners that would take the OS in areas where HP wasn’t going.

“As has been obvious for some time, there can be no OS business without a thriving ecosystem of partners and developers,” wireless analyst Chetan Sharma told AllThingsD. “Despite being a well-designed OS, HP didn’t really invest in building the ecosystem and getting developers invested in the platform. You can’t really throw a new OS and associated devices into the market without investing as heavily into the ecosystem.”

Sharma also noted that HP would have had to invest for two to four years to really see much payoff and it wasn’t clear there would be much room in the market with operating systems from Apple, Google and even Microsoft getting vastly more attention.

Update: HP has not responded to requests for further comment on its webOS plans. In the only further comment I have seen HP developer relations executive Richard Kerris posted a tweet moments ago, saying that webOS “is an awesome software platform and now we can explore the best hardware partner for it.”

The company is set to hold its earnings conference call shortly, so there may be more then.

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