Filling the Gap
The WebOS could fit right in this gap. It is more focused on mobile than Microsoft is and is far more secure than Android. It also comes from HP, which is an enterprise vendor and could be much more attractive to business buyers as a result. However, the OS is only part of a solution that includes hardware and services and there the product is light. HP killed its tablets and developers appear to have pulled away from the platform as a result of HP's tablet cancellation.
This will all need to be rebuilt in order to make this product successful, but given the effort reports directly into Meg Whitman and given this will be the ideal time for her to showcase how successful her Skype acquisition at eBay could have been had she managed it, this may be something she'd be willing to adequately resource. While not initially, all that material to HP will be tied to Whitman's success at the company and be a cornerstone for the rest of her career, so failure shouldn't be an option for her here.
Assuming Success: HP's iPod?
Apple took PortalPlayer and turned it into a massive success by creating the iPod. What would HP need to do to turn the WebOS into the next big thing? Well, a few ideas come to mind.
Make the user experience portable. What if you were to separate, say, an iPad from the hardware and allow it to free float into everything from TVs to car entertainment systems? Rather than trying to tie an iPad to all of this stuff, have all of it emulate an iPad or, in this case, a WebOS tablet. The WebOS has significant usability advantages over iOS and given HP is starting with software, it could make it more portable. Its revenue-driven value add could be the backend ecommerce, media, storage and syncing services, so not only would your stuff be on everything, you'd want it to be. The user could choose his/her user interface, apps, content and have it magically appear on every compliant device, from the car dash to the tablet.
This would be much more than Microsoft's similar PlaysForSure effort in that it would ensure a good user experience and transition between vendors and platforms. If the device could display a browser, one of the advantages of the WebOS app ecosystem is that the applications likely could run in it even if the device didn't run the OS, providing an initial attractive opportunity for developers. On the new ARM hardware it could provide a better alternative to Android and one that is much more attractive to businesses as well.
However, the point is, the boat has largely sailed for it to be successful as only a tablet and smartphone product, and much like Apple reinvented the MP3 market with the iPod, HP will need to reinvent something with WebOS in order for it to have similar potential.
Wrapping Up: Meg Whitman's iPod
In the end, this will likely be the signature project for Meg Whitman because it is simple, easy to follow and, given its consumer focus, of high interest. If she pulls this off, then she has a stronger shot at being the CEO of this decade (she is on the list) - if she misses, not so much. This one effort will likely define whether or not she will go on to greater things and that's what gives it a chance to be the next iPod. It would be ironic if the one thing that helped get her predecessor fired was the same thing that assured her place at the top of the technology market. Stranger things have happened and the industry desperately needs a little magic right now.