WebOS: Coming to a Non-HP Device Near You?

Jon Rubinstein and Kevin Maney

Here at Qualcomm's Uplinq conference, reporter Kevin Maney is interviewing Jon Rubinstein, former head of Palm and now the guy in charge of HP's WebOS business. Rubinstein did all the things you'd expect he'd do-he brandished two WebOs phones (the new Veer and upcoming Pre3), showed off a TouchPad tablet, and ran a demo video. Fine. But when Maney asked him whether HP would be willing to license WebOS to other companies, he said that the company had no interest in getting into the licensing game. And then he hedged a bit: he said that it might be interested in working with "one or two special companies."

It's an interesting prospect. Everyone always assumes that broad licensing of a software platform is a surer road to success than limiting it to your own devices, but history doesn't really bear that out. In fact, Palm history doesn't bear that out: for a while, Palm licensed its Palm OS to companies large (Sony) and small (HandEra), and the whole effort eventually withered away. So I don't think the fate of WebOS rests on HP's willingness to allow other manufacturers to get their hands on it.

But despite HP's scale-which HP execs keep reminding us of every time they discuss WebOS-it's going to be a major challenge for it to gain traction against the established dominance of the iPad and impending ubiquity of Android tablets. Another interesting device or two from a company that isn't HP might help.

Rubinstein didn't have much to say about what sort of interesting companies he was thinking of, but it sounded like ones that go after markets which HP isn't otherwise pursuing are more likely than ones that want to build something that's pretty much like a TouchPad. I like WebOS, want it to succeed, and am worried about it doing so without help-so I'm taking Rubinstein's comments as good news. Or at least as opening up the possibility of good news.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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