Arik Hesseldahl

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Former Palm Head Jon Rubinstein Leaves Hewlett-Packard

Jon Rubinstein, the former Apple executive who took over handheld maker Palm and moved with it to Hewlett-Packard in a 2010 acquisition, has left HP effective today, AllThingsD has learned.

Rubinstein is said to have no immediate plans, and had completed a 12- to 24-month commitment to stay with HP after the acquisition. “Jon has fulfilled his commitment and we wish him well,” HP spokeswoman Mylene Mangalindan said.

In a brief comment to AllThingsD, Rubinstein said, “I am going to take a well deserved break after four and a half years of developing webOS.”

Best known for his work on Apple’s iconic iPod music player, Rubinstein left Apple in 2006 and joined Roger McNamee as a partner in the private equity firm Elevation Partners, following its 2007 investments in Palm.

In 2009 he replaced longtime Palm executive Ed Colligan as its CEO, and oversaw a dramatic restructuring of the company’s products, including a significant rebuild of its smartphone operating system. Gone was the legacy PalmOS that had been used in so many popular devices like the Treo that for a time competed seriously against Research In Motion’s Blackberry.

PalmOS was replaced by WebOS, which first appeared on the Pre smartphone, then later on the Pixi and Veer devices. After HP acquired Palm, WebOS was also used on the abandoned TouchPad tablet, and is now an open source operating system overseen by HP.

Rubinstein’s departure is no big surprise. Sources said he hadn’t been seen at HP’s offices following the decision by former CEO Léo Apotheker to get out of the business of making WebOS-based hardware. His future plans have been the subject of speculation for some time.

After HP decided to exit the WebOS hardware business, Rubinstein was assigned to a vaguely described “product innovation role” within HP’s Personal Systems Group during a management shakeup last July. It was an unusual move and one made with little explanation at the time. But sources say it was a preface to Rubinstein’s departure, one intended to lessen its PR impact when he finally left. “That ‘innovation’ gig he was given in July was his first step toward the exit,” said one source, a former Palm exec with close ties to Rubinstein.

Here’s the video of Rubinstein’s onstage interview at our D: Dive Into Mobile conference in San Francisco in December 2010.

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