With the exception of a handful of senior executives, HP employees didn't have a clue about the massive shift until Thursday's press release announced that they were killing off their webOS mobile hardware business, potentially abandoning their mobile software business and nearing a deal to buy the enterprise software company Autonomy for $10.3 billion. (that deal was confirmed 30 minutes after the first press release). While it was no mystery their TouchPad tablet was selling poorly, the timing and tone of the announcement left everybody thinking one thing: HP is waving a big white flag in front of Apple.

Leo Apotheker, CEO of HP, essentially admitted defeat on the conference call following the announcement:

There is a clear secular movement in the consumer PC space. The tablet effect is real and the TouchPad is not gaining momentum in the marketplace.

MG Siegler at TechCrunch translates:

But wait, then why is he exiting the tablet space after only a matter of weeks? Because when Apotheker says “the tablet effect”, he really means “the iPad effect”.

Put another way, “Apple, you win.”

Matthew Panzarino at The Next Web explains that HP employees who worked on webOS might turn around and go work for Apple:

Because of the way that the hardware cancellation was announced, the future of webOS was made to look incredibly uncertain, which it very well could be unless a licensing deal is struck. Because HP didn’t announce a licensing deal up front, many employees working on webOS are unsure that they will have a job and HP stands to lose a lot of talent as employees get restless and begin looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Larry Dignan at ZDNet suggests that HP could make some money back by selling the webOS software patents--which would include Palm's patents--as a licensing deal sounds unlikely:

How realistic is Apotheker’s licensing concept for WebOS? Not very. …The only way HP could make a WebOS licensing model work would be to convince Samsung and HTC to defect from the Android army. Even with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility the chances of that outcome are slim.

Nicolas Carlson at Business Insider thinks that Facebook should just buy webOS:

The Android-based Facebook Phone has been tough sledding thanks to the company's strained relationship with Google and a series of employee departures. HP just gave up on WebOS. Zuckerberg and company could probably pick it up for the price of a couple sandwiches. We say go for it.

(We also think it wouldn't be silly for Amazon, which is building a Kindle tablet, to do the same thing.)

Colleen Taylor at GigaOm weighed in on HP's decision to buy Autonomy and make a play at the enterprise market:

It’s now-or-never time for HP. Apotheker recognized that people may question why HP is making such a big bet, but according to him, drastic times call for drastic measures.