If anything is certain about the news that Hewlett-Packard (news, site) is to stop making WebOS devices, and will probably spin off its PC business, it’s that Michael Dell is a funny man. On news of the decision by HP, which followed its announcement that it intends to buy Autonomy, he went into Tweet mode.

At this stage, his tweets are just about everywhere on the web, but deserve to be repeated here. One of them went “HP.... They are calling it a separation but it feels like a divorce” in reference to the PC angle, and the other, again a reference to PCs, went,  “If HP spins off their PC business....maybe they will call it Compaq?” Ouch!

WebOS’ Market

Funny all the same, but notable because of its lack of comment about WebOS. OK, so mobiles and mobility is not really Michael Dell’s thing, but the lack of comment from a generally talkative Michael underlines a lack of insight into what is going to happen to WebOS now across the market. Basically, no one knows.

It’s easier if you look at the sales figures to understand why HP might be dumping TouchPad, for example.

Leaving aside the stupendous US$ 10.2 billion in cash it is paying for Autonomy (news, site), to keep investing in something that wasn’t making the grade didn’t make sense.

It’s not that it wasn’t a perfectly good product -- and yes, there are mixed feelings about this -- but it does have a pretty good operating system with WebOS, and that counts for a lot.

It just seems that, with iPad, there isn’t a lot of room left in the market. Clearly, HP hasn’t revealed sales figures, but it has admitted that it wasn’t even close to hitting internal targets, which some say were targeted at the 3 million units mark by the end of this year.

iPad and the Tablet Market

Compare that to the performance of iPad and you see where the problems lie. In the first month of sales, 1 million iPads were sold, 2 million in the first two months and, according to Apple, something in the region of 9 million are being sold every quarter.

And that's before the launch of iPad3, which is slated for sometime toward the end of this year. In that kind of a market, it’s a wonder there is room for anyone else at all, and with launch costs estimated to be around US$ 300 million for TouchPad, it could keep sucking money out of a company that looks to have taken a major rain check, and is heading off on a different path.

Where Now, WebOS?

However, for those people who have bought WebOS devices, there might still be a glimmer of hope, even if it is only a glimmer.

Announcing that it was shelving the devices, HP held out the possibility that it will look at ways of finding some value for it. The statement reads:

HP will discontinue operations for WebOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and WebOS phones. The devices have not met internal milestones and financial targets. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of WebOS software going forward.”

Leaving aside the noteworthy fact that HP writes about itself in the third person, it does appear to hold out the possibility that it will keep WebOS going in some shape or form.

The obvious one is that it will license it out, an idea that seems to be circulating the most, even if it’s only being circulated by people who are still looking for the glimmer of light.

The other option is that it uses WebOS in other devices that are neither phone nor tablet, although how much work this would require, or how likely it is, is not clear.

One report citing “inside sources” suggests that a plan on what it is going to do with the platform will be made available in the next two weeks. The problem with inside sources is that they tend to be “inside” for the simple reason that no one -- even the insiders -- is sure what’s going on.

The Rest?

It’s unlikely there is any relationship between the Autonomy announcement and the WebOS announcement, given that they’re two different business segments, except the fact that HP is trying to put the past behind it.

Autonomy and information management are a way into the future given the success of the company, and in light of present market conditions with iPad and Apple, tablets for anyone else seem to be a business of the past.

While there are still dozens of questions that need to be answered in regards to the announcements of the past 24 hours, one that will be on a lot of people’s minds is, what of other tablet makers -- are they going to survive iPad? That remains to be seen and we don’t want to be making predictions, but TouchPad had a following, and if iPad is the reason behind its fall, then others need to start looking out.