Where Does Googorola Leave HP’s webOS?


In the wake of Google’s megadeal to acquire Motorola Mobility, it’s only natural to evaluate what this means for the other key players in the wireless space. One of the trickiest to figure out is what the deal could mean for Hewlett-Packard and its nascent webOS business.

Given the fears that some have over what Google’s control of Motorola could mean for other Android makers, some have suggested the deal might leave the door open for HP to get more aggressive about licensing its webOS to other device makers.

On one hand, HP has said it is open to some licensing of webOS. That said, the company explained at the time that it was mainly talking about those interested in taking the operating system into new areas, as opposed to those that would compete in the tablet and phone space.

Indeed, licensing webOS would put phone makers in the same position they may find themselves in with Google — that is, competing against the same company whose software they are using. This, tech historians note, is not something that has tended to work well in the tech industry.

Apple briefly licensed the Mac operating system, but ultimately pulled the plug on that effort. Palm tried to be both hardware maker and licensee, sharing its software with Sony and Handspring, among others. Eventually, though, it found that relationship too complicated, and tried to split off its operating system and hardware businesses.

Another option for HP would be to use webOS for tablets, printers and other hardware, but license out the software for use on phones. The appeal of this would be that HP has never been a big player in phones, and it has little revenue today in that area. On the downside, it’s not clear how much interest there is, nor how much money it could make competing against Android, which Google does not charge directly for. Plus, HP has always been more of a hardware company than a software concern.

“It’s hard to imagine licensing would be enough for them without being in the hardware business,” says Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.

An HP representative declined to comment on the company’s reaction to the Google-Motorola deal, though it may have more to say when it reports earnings on Thursday.

One thing is clear: HP needs to do something if it wants webOS to be a serious player in the mobile space.