HP in talks to license webOS

HP Veer 4G (hand)

When HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion back in 2010, everyone knew the takeover was about Palm’s webOS rather than its struggling smartphone business. Now, both HP CEO Leo Apotheker and HP’s Palm business unit head Jon Rubenstein have confirmed that HP is in talks with other companies about licensing out webOS so they can make their own webOS devices—and one of the companies in question is Samsung.

Apotheker confirmed to Bloomberg that HP is having discussions with “a number of companies” that have expressed interest in licensing webOS, while indicating that the company does not feel is is under any significant time pressure to execute a licensing deal and expand the webOS ecosystem. Bloomberg cites three anonymous sources with knowledge of the discussions that Samsung is one of the companies involved in webOS talks, although neither Apotheker nor Samsung would not comment.

In the meantime, former Palm CEO—and now HP’s top Palm exec—Jon Rubenstein told This is my next that HP is more interested in an ecosystem partner that will be a full participant in the webOS platform, rather than an company that decides to make some webOS devices alongside devices running Android, Windows Phone, or other platforms. Rubenstein indicated HP would be OK with webOS partners that also dabbled in other mobile platforms, but would want webOS to be a primary focus.

Licensing webOS to invested partners could be a smart move for the platform: HP is only now launching the TouchPad, its first webOS-based tablet, more than a year after acquiring Palm, and has barely begun pushing webOS smartphones with the diminutive Veer. Licensing out webOS could be a quick way to expand the platform’s ecosystem and build it to a point where it could become a serious contender; it could also help bolster HP’s bottom line, which has taken a bit of a hit from slumping PC sales as consumers opt for tablet devices rather than inexpensive PCs.

On the other hand, a licensing deal that produced sub-par webOS devices—or with partners that treated webOS as an afterthought—could significantly hobble the platform, giving it a credibility gap next to the likes of iOS and Android that it might take years go overcome.