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Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

HP's Jon Rubinstein slams Android, takes on Apple's iPad

The Wall Street Journal has posed its interview with HP's Jon Rubinstein, shedding additional light on the firm's future plans for webOS in light of his past as a top engineer working with Steve Jobs at Apple and NeXT.

The interview, conducted as part of the D: Dive Into Mobile conference, began with Kara Swisher pinning down Rubinstein over his previous comments that he had never used Apple's iPhone before taking on the job of turning Palm around and launching the new webOS and the Palm Pre in 2009.

Not influenced by the iPhone

Rubinstein said that he's still never used the iPhone "as his own device" or extensively on a regular basis, arguing that he didn't want to be distracted at Palm in his efforts to build the the new webOS on "a blank sheet of paper, from the ground up."

Rubinstein added, "we wanted to have a unique experience with it. And so instead of just copying what everyone else does, we thought through the fundamentals, starting with Palm's original DNA, to create a really unique experience. And I think we've absolutely accomplished that."

While noting that Palm performs competitive analysis with other products including those from Apple, Rubinstein stressed that "I don't want to be tainted by a different experience. So I'm trying to come with a new, fresh outlook on how things should work."

Rubinstein said he wanted to feel out the experience of his own creations without "being biased with how some other product works," adding, "I think what we're seeing a lot in the industry right now is that everyone is copying the iPhone," remarks that seemed to be directed at Google's Android, RIM's BlackBerry, and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.

Cat fight: Android vs webOS

Swisher noted that Google's Andy Rubin, the former founder of Danger and current VP of Engineering on Android, described his own product and Apple's iOS among the few modern mobile operating systems, while dismissing most other companies as working with old legacy systems stuck in the past.

Despite starting from a clean slate to develop the webOS, Rubin had said that Palm was really still in the mindset of the original Palm OS experience, contrasting that with Android's development at Google.

"That's just not true," Rubinstein replied. "We had the unique opportunity to start from a blank sheet of paper. Palm OS, the original Palm OS, was sixteen years old, and hadn't been supported in a while. So it really wasn't anything we could leverage from."

Repeating that "we did take some of the original Palm DNA," which he described as its ease of use, the minimal steps needed to perform operations, and gestures, things "that made the original Pilot great," Rubinstein countered that "we didn't use any of the [other] stuff from before. In fact, if anything, I'd say webOS is the most advanced mobile operating system out there."

He noted that webOS' "whole user interface is based in WebKit. We use JavaScript, CSS and HTML, so the languages of the web, to develop applications on top of it. We designed webOS to be connected to the cloud. That was part of the original concept around it." Rubinstein did not mention the cloud services failure the company experienced last winter that resulted in user data loss.

"If anything," Rubinstein added, "I'd say Android is based on Java, which is actually sort of more backward looking. We took a real leap forward in doing what we did. It's very similar to what the Chrome guys are doing at Google."

Palm Pre


Why webOS failed at Palm

Asked what he thought caused the downfall of Palm as an independent company after the 2009 launch of the Palm Pre, Rubinstein answered, "I think that we did have many of the elements needed to be successful. We had a great team, we'd built a great operating system, we had a great product pipeline, we had relationships with carriers, a growing developer base. We had a half billion dollars in cash.

"But I think the market moved too fast, as far as the competition went," Rubinstein said. While seeing "a very clear way to get the company to profitability and continue on as an independent company, Palm "didn't see a way to get to scale," given the competitive landscape involving Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Rather than wanting to be a small successful company, which Rubinstein also admitted wouldn't likely be sustainable, he indicated that Palm made the decision to be acquired by HP in order to achieve the kind of scale required to matter in the market. Palm was rumored to have rejected a takeover offer from Apple, which was said to be primarily interested in acquiring the company's extensive patent portfolio.

Asked what Palm did wrong, Rubinstein agreed that "the weird lady marketing" Palm had used for the Pre was a mistake, and noted that "it takes time to deliver a mature operating system. I would like to have moved faster going from webOS 1.0 to 2.0," he added. "In general, I think the world moved a little faster than we expected. We ran out of runway."

Rubinstein said Palm had looked at a variety of options, including raising more money and creating partnerships, but said "we felt the most expeditious outcome was to partner with someone like HP, have them acquire the company and then move forward."

In describing HP as the ideal partner, Rubinstein said that while the company could have continued to license Android or Microsoft, "I think a company like HP needs to be in control of its own future. It needs to be able to differentiate its own products."

On page 2 of 3: Palm enters maelstrom of executive drama at HP, And a technical crisis.