HP sees webOS on phones, slates, maybe netbooks

When HP revealed plans to buy Palm yesterday, we speculated that the merger could result in an HP slate running Palm's webOS platform. The folks at Engadget have followed some of the post-merger discussion—and talked to Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein as well as a top HP exec—and it sounds like a webOS-powered HP slate is indeed on the way.

HP Personal Systems Group Executive VP Todd Bradley gave an unambiguous confirmation in the conference call following the buyout, reportedly stating, "Between smartphones, slates, and potentially netbooks, there are a lot of opportunities here."

The Engadget guys learned a little more while chatting with Jon Rubinstein and HP Strategy and Corporate Development Senior VP Brian Humphries. HP will be "doubling down on webOS" and intends to scale the operating system "across multiple connected devices." At the same time, the PC maker has left Palm's hardware roadmap and much of the firm's management hierarchy intact for now.

Finally, this quote from the Engadget piece pretty much sums up what we can expect:

Money-wise we asked if Jon thought HP could provide the sort of "ammunition" to beat Apple, Google, and Microsoft at their own mobile game, and Jon says "I don't think HP would do this unless they were willing to make the kind of investment necessary to win."

Although webOS has a compelling interface, Palm hasn't had a whole lot of success in making money from its webOS-powered Pre smart phones. In its latest quarterly statement, Palm posted a net loss of $22 million, down from a net loss of $13.7 million for the previous quarter. Rubinstein stated in the official press release, "Our recent underperformance has been very disappointing, but the potential for Palm remains strong."

In any case, webOS seems like a necessity if HP is serious about competing against the iPad. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's clumsy demonstration of a Windows 7-based HP slate in January showed some of the usability shortcomings of running a full desktop OS on a slate device. Also, we suspect Windows 7's hardware requirements would rule out either satisfactory performance or competitive battery life in a device of that size.

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