LG has bought the webOS operating system from HP, and intends to build it into TVs, commercial displays, and potentially cars - but not tablets or phones, LG and HP spokespeople said here at Mobile World Congress.
"The open and transparent webOS technology offers a compelling user experience that, when combined with our own technology, will pave the way for future innovations using the latest Web technologies," LG's CTO Skott Ahn said in a press release.
LG spokesman Sam Chang explained further. As smart TVs are perpetually connected to the web (unlike phones), they're great platforms for an all-HTML5, web-centric OS. The user interface on the TVs will be "very complementary to the current webOS user experience," using LG's Magic Remote in place of touch gestures and emphasising multitasking, he said. Existing native WebOS applications probably won't run on the TVs, though.
"The existing app catalogue was not one of the major reasons for the acquisition," Chang said.
But the webOS team was. The acquisition will give LG an experienced software team in the heart of Silicon Valley as the company continues to shift from being a manufacturer to trying to be a software innovator.
"Integrated with LG, this team will be the heart and soul of the new LG Silicon Valley Lab, focused on bringing innovative technology solutions to market through the most popular platforms for sharing and consuming content and experiences," Ahn said.
LG will keep the open-source elements of webOS and the Enyo development platform intact and continue to nurture them, Chang said. That means if third parties want to keep developing Open webOS ports for phones and tablets, LG won't stop them.
This is an unexpected turn of events for a beloved OS with an unusually picaresque history. Hailed as the next great smartphone OS when launched by Palm in 2009, webOS was bought in April 2010 by HP, which intended to put it on PCs, printers, monitors, tablets, and phones. But the webOS project was mismanaged and suffocated under the leadership of then-HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who expressed great antipathy to HP's consumer divisions during his 11-month tenure in 2010 and 2011. HP killed all webOS hardware projects in 2011, and decided to open-source the platform in late 2011.
Google TV and Android in; WebOS phones out
This doesn't mean LG is ditching Google TV, Chang said. "Just as Google has Android and Chrome OS," LG will support two smart TV platforms.
The company is "focused on Android" for phones and tablets, at least for now, but Chang left the door open to webOS portable devices in the distant future. "I can see how over time we could consider that an option, but currently it's not," he said.
HP recently released its first Android tablet, the Slate 7. It'll keep the cloud aspects of webOS and use them as part of a cross-platform device management strategy, HP spokesman Martin Resau said.
Just to repeat: HP isn't making any more webOS phones. It's using the cloud elements of webOS to administer Android and Windows devices for businesses.
"We are licensing back webOS, and we're going to be partners going forward to use the innovation of webOS," Resau said. "Enterprises need to support bring-your-own device, and we can support private enterprise app catalogues. It will be really cross platform, and that's the exciting part," Resau said.
The first webOS TVs from LG will appear "in the near future," Chang said. He didn't give any details.