Google's takeover of Motorola, a lot of the focus has been on how it will affect the Android ecosystem. Google claims that nothing will really change and that Android will remain open and free to its partners. The major Android partners seemingly agree that the Google is doing the right thing to "defend Android." Yet, what is said by corporate CEOs reacting to big news and what is reality six months or a year down the line are two separate things. Doors may open for Android original equipment manufacturers to get off the Android crack and diversify their mobile portfolios. This could create an opening for Windows Phone 7, as many have mentioned. It also could be a big opportunity for Hewlett-Packard. The answer? License WebOS.With
HP bought Palm and WebOS for $1.2 billion last year. Since then it has floundered in HP developer purgatory and then released to a couple handsets and the HP TouchPad, a tablet of mediocre quality. That does not mean that WebOS is a dud. Palm had an operating system of equal (and in many ways superior) quality to both iOS and Android. It lacked marketing power and the ability to get developers on board to create a vibrant application ecosystem. This has not changed under HP. Yet, with Android OEMs now casting a wary eye on Google/Motorola (which I shall refer to as MotoGoo) and HP realizing that it has absolutely no market clout with WebOS, there may be an opportunity to resurrect one of the original smartphone operating systems.
How Could This Work?
The first thing that would need to happen to create an opening for WebOS is that Google would have to anger its OEM partners. HTC, Samsung and LG are the primary Android licensees (of which Motorola and Sony Ericsson are a few steps behind). This could easily happen. What if Samsung, which is notoriously slow in rolling out new Android updates, does not release the next version of Android to the Nexus S in a timely fashion (to note, over-the-air updates have as much to do with the carriers as the OEM)? Developers rely on the Nexus flagship as the developers' build and it is important that those devices have the newest version of Android widely available as soon as possible. Yet, Samsung toddles and Google tells its Motorola division to show them how it is done, releasing an OTA update to its signature Droid device.
That could easily happen. In which case, the value of the Nexus series as the flagship and signature Android device loses its place as the de facto Android phone to the Droid. Even if that is just temporary, that is a shot against the OEM that paid for the right to be the Nexus provider. There are a thousand similar scenarios where MotoGoo could say "Motorola, show them how its done." Next thing that the OEM knows is that its return on investment in Android has become negligible compared to the licensing fees it could pay to Microsoft for Windows Phone.
On the other end, HP would have to more or less give up its claim to making commercially "popular" WebOS devices and get into the licensing business. HP could create a signature device or two every year to work as the developers' build but the bulk of the heavy lifting would be done by the OEMs.
HP has toyed with the idea of licensing WebOS, but it has not come out and said that it will do so.
"It is certainly something we would entertain," HP CEO LEO Apotheker told AllThingsD in June.
There are some analysts, such as Ben Bajarin from Creative Strategies, who have been shouting for HP to license WebOS to take advantage of Android's vulnerabilities for months.
How Does This Benefit HP & The OEMs?
HTC and Samsung are already paying for various aspects of Android. The kernel and code are free but there are certain patents where the OEMs have to pay off Microsoft for the right to use them. Microsoft is probably making more money off of Android licenses then it is with Windows Phone 7. So, obtaining licenses for other operating systems does not seem to be too much of a stretch. The OEMs could free themselves of Android dependence and the potential tyranny that could come with a MotoGoo monopoly on Android.
On HP's side, the benefit is in the cloud and value-added services in addition to revenue made from licenses. HP is trying to bring the mobile OS closer to the PC OS and will be releasing WebOS to its PCs along with Windows next year. There is nothing stopping HP from still doing this if it licenses WebOS for smartphones. The marketing writes itself - "the smartphone that will work seamlessly with your computer, no matter where you are (unless, of course, you use a Mac)."
The value for HP is that WebOS would and the ecosystem would still lives in its cloud. The company can focus on its primary goals of cloud, PC and enterprise while getting rid of the headache and expense of actually making the devices that make the entire ecosystem stand up.
This Is All Good In Theory ...
Yet, the deciding factor is not MotoGoo, the OEMS, HP, WebOS or any other entity.
It is about consumers.
Votes come with wallets and right now wallets are opened to Android and Apple and closed to pretty much everyone else. Windows Phone has had a big marketing campaign and still controls next to none of the market. WebOS has been relegated to "other" status in Gartner's Q2 mobile market share research and is being significantly outsold by Bada, Samsung's home brew OS.
Then there are apps. Android and iOS have a lot of them and a lot of motivated developers. WebOS has virtually none. In fact, this reporter has never once been pitched a WebOS app from a developer. In the multitudes of pitches that the ReadWriteWeb team receives every day, that is a mild surprise.
So, while it is interesting to speculate what HP could do and what the OEMs might want to do, the consumer is the tyrant that rules them all. Let us know in the comments if you would buy a WebOS phone made by HTC or Samsung. If Android is caves from inside because of the MotoGoo deal or is destroyed by patent lawsuits in court, where would you turn for your next smartphone?