Is Palm evaporating at HP?

Another high profile exit; what's left besides the webOS code?

TechCrunch has confirmed that the man responsible for leading the Palm Pre design team has left HP.  Peter Skillman was Vice President of Design at Palm, and had been with the company for 11 years. No word yet on what he'll be doing next.

But he won't be working on webOS-based devices for HP, which finalized it's Palm buy-out in July.

He's only the latest, according to the report. Other's who've left since HP announced it was acquiring the struggling handset maker: Mike Bell, an Apple veteran who took charge of Palm's product development, joined Intel; Matias Duarte, who previously worked on the T-mobile Sidekick and then Helio's Ocean project, responsible for human interface and user experience, is working on Android at Google; and Michael Abbott, guiding development of Palm's innovative webOS, jumped ship to Twitter.

The whole crew was profiled in a June 2009 Fortune magazine story, just as the Palm Pre slider smartphone was released exclusively on Sprint. Though generally well-reviewed, and its webOS firmware was very well-reviewed, the Palm Pre failed to catch fire with users. Palm later introduced a second webOS phone, the Palm Pixi, with an exposed keyboard. That, too, didn't catch on.

There may be lower-level software developers still with HP, though the challenge for the company is finding leadership talent that is fully committed to what webOS can offer in a range of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.

But it's not just leadership for the Palm unit HP needs: Skillman's defection comes on the heels of the abrupt resignation of HP CEO Mark Hurd, following a sexual harrassment investigation by HP's board.

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