The announcement that HP has pulled the plug on webOS hardware but is keeping options open for the OS licensing is a sad day for those of us who remember fondly the great Palm hardware and software back in the day. HP was the worst possible buyer for Palm as it didn't tick any boxes that Palm lacked: scale, channels, brand power, marketing muscle etc.

We don't think webOS is dead though, there will be many options including licensing broadly or selling the OS right to one of several eager and desperate handset vendors. Owning or at least gaining early access to OS innovation is one of many success factors for smartphone vendors. Nokia has realized that albeit belatedly, Motorola had already bet the farm on Android long before Google's surprise acquisition this week

 

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Apple iOS while still powerful has been overtaken by an increasingly fragmented Android and mobile operators reportedly are making nice with Microkia and committing to ranging WP7 devices at least in the US with strong anticipation for the latest Mango release. A strong third ecosystems to counter the twin evils of Google and Apple remains a priority with both Microsoft and Nokia likely to benefit from this week of mega mobile announcements.

So who might step in to acquire or license webOS. One of the large Chinese vendors with ambitions to be a top 3 vendor worldwide would be a good candidate as volume and profits require a differentiated experience which a solid OS like webOS would bring. Verticalization is the order of the day and someone like Huawei with aspirations to be a $100B company has the  scale and ambition to take on the challenge whether or not they can understand developer mentality is another questions entirely.

Software, OS control and innovation of the user experience are critical to the chasing pack of Android developers and to vendors who seek to be able to control their own destiny, so who would benefit in terms of OEMs, Huawei is top of my list while I would not rule out LG. Licensing to multiple vendors for multiple purposes would be possible but HP and webOS is too late to the game in most markets and I just don't see the utility of putting it on printers and peripherals or refrigerators for that matter.