Palm WebOS to become HP’s consumer OS for slates, netbooks?

Okay so HP has dropped a cool US$1.2 billion buying beleaguered smartphone company Palm – and not as much for the brand (which it’s likely to ditch) but for the WebOS and the people behind the made-for-mobiles operating system. Now what?

HP already has access to a mobile OS courtesy of Microsoft. The two companies share a solid long-term relationship which includes HP’s forthcoming Slate as a poster child for the new wave of Windows-based tablets. HP has already signed up to offer smartphones running Windows Phone 7 not to mention the range of HP Mini netbooks all running Windows 7.

But Todd Bradley head of HP’s personal systems group wants to see its newly-acquired WebOS in everything from smartphones to slates and even netbooks.

HP’s Slate: coming soon with your choice of Windows and WebOS?

Speaking in a conference call on HP’s buyout of Palm Bradley promised the company would “invest heavily” in WebOS and dramatically boost the US$190 million which Palm spends on R&D so that the OS could be rolled into slates and potentially netbooks.

Bradley described WebOS as “a strong operating system to deliver a unique customer experience” indicating the company will seek to leverage its total ownership of the Linux-based OS as a way to differentiate it from the relative commodity platform of Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7.

The small footprint lesser hardware hit and cloud-centric nature of WebOS – along with its ready-made (if small) community of developers an SDK and an app store platform – makes it perfectly suited to simple slates (perhaps including models smaller than the nine inch Windows Slate) and netbooks which are less about productivity than personal use and content consumption.

“And since tablets are primarily front ends to the Internet it allows HP to deploy many cloud-based services from which it can generate revenues including those in an app store (and) streamed services” says US telecoms analyst Jack Gold.

In at least the short term HP’s new mobile OS could have a clear consumer skew while Windows powers the more PC-centric business tablets and netbooks. It could also find an ancillary role in devices such as digital photo frames which is an area HP has started to develop and provides another entre into the digital home space.