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Did Google's Motorola buy convince HP to dump its webOS devices?

19 Aug 2011

HP grabbed the headlines on Thursday when it announced a major corporate redesign which will include a spinoff of its PC division and the end of its smartphone and tablet lines.

The company admitted that a large factor in the decision was the failure of the TouchPad tablet, which has been a dud in the market. Reports indicate that retailers can't get their TouchPads back to HP fast enough.

But there might be a bit more at work here. And it may have to do with Google.

When HP announced that it was killing its webOS hardware division, the company also went out of its way to point out that the software itself is still alive, at least for the time being. Some industry watchers believe that HP could be looking to poach a few Android vendors.

Shortly after HP announced its new business plan, V3 spoke with analyst Rob Enderle who had an interesting take on the decision. Enderle suggested that the move may not be a death sentence for webOS, but rather a power play.

Enderle explained that, with Google getting its own hardware outfit in Motorola Mobility, Android handset makers suddenly find themselves with a new competitor that enjoys a significant advantage in developing the operating system as well.

With handset makers potentially souring on what they see as a stacked deck for Google, Enderle thinks HP could try to entice companies to webOS.

"They will also offer indemnification, something most of these vendors couldn't get from Google and desperately wanted thanks to the Apple litigation and Microsoft royalties," Enderle said.

"Suddenly we have a new major operating system player, and it couldn't have happened without Google buying Motorola."

There are other indications that HP could look to license webOS as well. Enderle noted that HP chief executive Léo Apotheker made his name in the software market, and HP made its software operations a big part of its planned rebuild.

So if HP is indeed planning to pitch webOS to third-party vendors, the big question may be just how solid is the platform? With the backing of companies experienced in building cutting-edge handsets and tablets, could webOS take off and perhaps even pose a threat to Android down the road?

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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