HP Splits WebOS Hardware, Software As It Scrambles For Workable WebOS Plan

HP (NYSE: HPQ) continues to think out loud as it tries to figure out what it wants to do with the WebOS business unit it paid $1.2 billion for in 2010. Over the weekend, it emerged that the company plans to divide the workers on the hardware and software ends of the WebOS spectrum and place them in two separate business units.

Those staffers who were working on producing WebOS hardware–which HP has said it plans to stop doing by the end of this year–now work for HP’s Personal Systems Group under Stephen DeWitt, according to a leaked memo obtained by PreCentral. DeWitt was brought in to oversee the entire group just a little over a month ago, but he’ll now be in charge of winding down operations as HP stops making TouchPad tablets and Pre smartphones in response to poor demand.

Meanwhile, those working on WebOS software development–which HP has said it plans to continue–will now work for Shane Robison, HP’s chief technology officer, in the Office of Strategy and Technology. “Reorganizing the WebOS software teams under OS&T allows us to fully investigate how we can utilize the WebOS software platform,” wrote Todd Bradley, head of PSG. “The pan-HP charter of OS&T provides a broad view of how we can optimize our technologies.”

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that HP has no definable exit strategy in place for WebOS, weeks after it surprised the mobile world by publicly declaring its intentions to stop making WebOS hardware. Presumably HP wants to either sell or license the software, but it doesn’t seem to have any sense as to how to reach that endgame: HP has previously confirmed that it has been talking about licensing WebOS for months with nothing yet to show for those efforts, and one of the most likely candidates to purchase the division said flat-out last week that it would “never” happen.

As a result, it’s impossible to recommend any investment in the software, as solid a piece of technology as it is. That’s because it could take months for HP to “fully investigate” its options for WebOS, which will likely involve a patent-related deal as HP’s best chance of recouping its investment in the former Palm.