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HP's WebOS: What's Next

HTC's response has been added to this story.

PALO ALTO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Could HP's (HPQ - Get Report) WebOS software end up in the hands of Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) or even handset giants HTC or ZTE? Speculation is rife about the operating system's future after HP decided to pull the plug on its WebOS-based hardware last week.

"Someone like HTC or ZTE would probably be interested in it because there is a lot of handset IP in there that would be valuable to them," said Avi Cohen, head of research at analyst firm Avian Securities, noting WebOS strength in multitasking and video playback.
HP CEO, Leo Apotheker

HP has not yet divulged its long-term plans for the WebOS software IP, although Todd Bradley, executive vice president of the firm's Personal Systems Group (PSG) said that it is still "strategically important" for HP during a CNBC interview this week.

While disappointing TouchPad sales made relinquishing WebOS hardware seem like a relatively easy decision for HP, various options exist for the WebOS software, namely selling it or licensing it out.

Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, thinks that chip maker Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) should grab WebOS, noting that Qualcomm's possession of the platform would give the chip company a complete chip solution to offer to mobile device makers. That, said Gold, would give Qualcomm a leg up over rivals like Nvidia (NVDA), Texas Instruments (TXN) and even Intel (INTC).

WebOS already runs on Qualcomm chips, so there are links between the two technologies, and Gold speculates that a deal would boost the chipmaker's tablet presence. "In the emerging markets, where costs are key and the dominance of iPad/iOS/Android is much less important, this could be a winning strategy to make a low cost tablet market come alive," he said in a note. "It could invigorate the many vendors serving the emerging markets and it could sell a lot of Qualcomm chipsets."

A spokesman for HTC, however, said that the company has no plans to license WebOS at this time. ZTE and Qualcomm declined to comment.

Over in Palo Alto, HP continues to play its cards close to its chest. "We plan to continue to investigate the best ways to leverage WebOS software and grow the applications," said a spokeswoman, vaguely, in an email to TheStreet.

Dynamics in the telecom and handset markets are shifting rapidly, as evidenced by Google's (GOOG) recent $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility (MMI). "If Google is going to make the MMI patent portfolio available to HTC, then they may not need WebOS," said Avian Securities' Cohen.

HTC CEO Peter Chou recently voiced his support for the Google/Motorola deal in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, explaining that it strengthens the Android ecosystem by reducing the risk of IP lawsuits.

HP shares, which plunged after the firm announced its restructuring plans last week, closed up 67 cents, or 2.73%, to $25.21 on Wednesday.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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