Could WebOS Become the 'New Android'?

Last Monday, when I was out on vacation, Google dropped a bomb on the mobile ecosystem: it entered into an agreement to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. Everyone is more than familiar with the story and there's been a ton of analysis in the intervening seven days.

Here's the crux of that analysis:

  1. Google was compelled to buy MOTO because of its IP (17,000 patents) after competitors attacked Android with bigger patent portfolios 
  2. Microsoft was after MOTO as well 
  3. Google wanted more control over the final product and Apple-like hardware-software integration 

The response to all of this is yes and yes. While I don't know the actual truth of the Microsoft acquisition rumor (I believe it) all of these motivations likely played a role. Now regulators must approve the deal, which I suspect they will do.

Google said that the acquisition shouldn't change anything among its other hardware partners or the Android ecosystem generally (Samsung, HTC, LG, etc). Here's the quote from the press release:

Our vision for Android is unchanged and Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community. We will continue to work with all of our valued Android partners to develop and distribute innovative Android-powered devices.

But it clearly does change things. Hardware OEMs will be taking a harder look at Windows now to "hedge" and "diversify." But what about WebOS? 

The other bombshell last week was HP's announcement that it's getting out of the PC business and potentially going to unload WebOS. In April last year HP (under a different CEO) bought Palm for $1.2 billion, chiefly to get WebOS. Now it may sell the software assets and it's possible to imagine several parties being interested.

It has been suggested by some that Facebook should buy WebOS. But one could imagine HTC, Samsung (even with Bada), LG and others -- including Nokia -- being interested the platform if the price were right. But what if HP were to hold onto WebOS and open-source it or license it on very friendly terms? Indeed, HP is now saying or clarifying that it will hold on to WebOS and continue to support and even license the software.  

The platform, which was early on regarded as platform most competitive with iOS, could gain new life as an alternative to Android for nervous handset OEMs. With a post-MOTO Google competing with its partners in a new, more direct way the market could well be ready for a new "open-source" Mobile platform. It's a long-shot and HP could still sell Palm/WebOS to a single buyer. If that were to happen WebOS would likely continue to languish and ultimately disappear.

However open-sourcing the platform or offering friendly, low-cost licenses to various hardware makers could give WebOS new vitality and a future.