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LG acquires webOS from HP – but not for mobile kit

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Foster-child operating system webOS has been placed in yet another home – but not one in which it will be used for its original smartphone raison d'être.

LG Electronics will acquire the peripatetic OS from HP, which got its hands on webOS when it acquired Palm in April 2010 for a cool $1.2bn. Palm had used webOS for its ill-fated Pre and Pixie smartphones, but LG plans to use webOS in the next big consumer-electronics battleground, smart TVs, LG president and chief technology officer Skott Ahn told The Wall Street Journal.

In the deal, LG will get not only the rights to the operating system, but also the HP engineers who work on it. The deal – terms of which were not disclosed – also involves LG licensing HP patents relating to webOS, but HP will retain ownership of them.

What remains unclear, however, is the future status of webOS as an open source platform, as HP announced it would become last August. On Monday morning, The Reg asked both LG and HP about the future of open source webOS, but we haven't yet heard back from either company.

We also contacted the aptly named Phoenix International Communications, a group that plans to bring a webOS device or devices to market sometime in the future, and received the following statement – which may have been typed with fingers crossed:

Phoenix International Communications remains committed to continuing its efforts to develop webOS technology and products. We look forward to any opportunities which may present themselves for working with LG, webOS' new custodian, to speed the return of mobile webOS devices to the market.

Now that LG has acquired webOS, the operating system may indeed rise from the ashes, but the South Korean company has expressed no interest – yet – in creating products that cleave to the operating system's mobile roots. Instead, LG will pitch it into a marketplace where no operating system yet has an established foothold.

Google TV hasn't exactly set the world on fire, and Cupertino's Apple TV remains in the "hobby" status that both CEO Tim Cook and his predecessor Steve Jobs have consigned it. Intel has announced that it will introduce a television that watches you watching it, and rumors of an Apple big-screen unit have been around almost as long as I Love Lucy reruns, but no established leader – and, more important, no established leading smart TV operating system – yet rules the living room.

The smart TV market is still up for grabs, and if LG gets theirs to market posthaste – Ahn told the WSJ that his company plans to launch theirs "very soon" – a webOS-based TV might attract enough developer interest to create an app ecosystem that could give LG a leg up.

That last sentence, sharp-eyed readers will note, had one "if", one "might", and one "could". A bit speculative, to be sure, but more optimistic than the history of webOS to date: the Palm Pre and Pixie and the HP TouchPad and Veer are better described using terms such as "didn't" and "couldn't". ®

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