The bad news for Hewlett-Packard is that its new TouchPad tablets aren't exactly flying off the shelves. But, the company hopes, the good news is that its webOS platform will expand to include smart refrigerators and cars.
According to news reports, electronics retailer Best Buy has only sold up to 25,000 of the 270,000 TouchPads in its inventory. Best Buy has reportedly told HP it wants to return the unused stock, but HP is resisting. HP recently implemented a variety of discounts and sales for the tablets.
'Enormous Amount of Interest'
HP is not the only would-be competitor to Apple's iPad that is having a hard time gaining traction with a tablet, but it has a backup plan. According to Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, the company is working to have appliance and manufacturers use its webOS in their products.
CEO Leo Apotheker said earlier this summer that HP would begin talks with other companies about using webOS. The operating system used in the TouchPad and the Pre smartphones was obtained by when HP acquired Palm last year for $1.2 billion.
Stephen DeWitt, who leads the webOS effort, told the Journal that other companies have shown "an enormous amount of interest" in using the platform, although he declined to name names.
There's a growing market for operating systems in appliances and cars, but it already has some leading players, including Ford's Sync technology and Microsoft's embedded versions of Windows. Ford's platform supports auto-based phone calls and integration with mobile audio devices.
'Edge of the Ecosystem'
But cars and, especially, appliances have a different life span from, say, smartphones. While customers frequently update their mobile devices, a refrigerator could remain functional for a decade or more. Whirlpool told the Journal that it doesn't expect to use webOS because it's uncertain if its appliances would outlive the OS.
Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with industry research firm Forrester, said HP's interest in pursuing car and appliance makers is "consistent with what they've said before," although she noted that the company has evolved that position.
At first, she said, HP indicated it would not be licensing its new OS, and then it said it would not do so with direct competitors, but only with those she described as on "the edge of the ecosystem."
Epps noted that, in addition to the longevity of the OS, Whirlpool and similar manufacturers are concerned about tying themselves to a touchscreen-based interaction that could look dated within a few years. One example, she said, is Virgin Airlines, whose touchscreens used to seem "so far ahead, and now seem dated."
Epps said "companies want to remain flexible," such as installing sensors rather than touchscreens in their appliances, so the products can then communicate with the physical world and with the current generation of mobile devices.
But which OS to use? Until this week, Google's open-source Android might have been a leading contender, but its acquisition of Motorola Mobility is making that platform "less pure," she said, since Google has now gone from "a platform model to an OEM model."
"I don't think anyone yet knows what the answer is" to the question of what platform appliance and car makers should use, Epps said.