Monday, July 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm.

Jon Rubinstein’s new job at HP: Make it more like Apple

Jon Rubinstein, the former Apple engineering exec, has a new job at HP. He is no longer directly in charge of WebOS — the mobile operating system he developed while running Palm, which HP acquired last year.

Rubinstein’s new title is “senior vice president for Product Innovation” in HP’s Personal Systems Group, which includes its consumer PC business and mobile devices. Stephen DeWitt, who was leading Americas for the Personal Systems Group, is now in charge of all things WebOS.

Here’s how I look at this. The hard part of engineering and building WebOS is largely done, and now it’s a business development and marketing project: Getting carriers, developers, consumers, distributors, and potential licensees on board with WebOS.

That’s not the kind of job that a world-class engineering executive needs to be in charge of. And it’s not the kind of job that Rubinstein has even been good at — Palm’s market share continues to drop in the U.S., even with a relatively good product. You might even say that he “failed up” into this new job. (And a pessimist might even say that he’s been demoted. But that doesn’t really make sense — if HP didn’t want him, they could have just fired him.)

Anyway, if you’re HP, and you have Jon Rubinstein on your staff, and he seems to want to stick around and not bolt for the VC world or a startup or a competitor, what should he be working on?

He should be trying to teach all of HP how to become more like Apple, which has been taking share from the HPs of the world in consumer laptops, and is leading the way with tablets.

And he should be figuring out, big-picture, how to make HP rely less on Microsoft and Windows. One of the big reasons that HP had to buy Palm in the first place is that Microsoft was dreadfully behind on smartphones and tablets, and HP has suffered because of it. So Rubinstein should be making sure that sort of thing never happens again. WebOS may be a big part of the solution — a next-generation operating system that could eventually be ported over to inexpensive laptops and desktops.

Those are the types of big problems where having Rubinstein on staff could be really helpful. Not little things like trying to wiggle more marketing support out of Verizon.