When HP dropped its TouchPad tablet and focused its consumer products on Android and Windows, the accompanying webOS platform went into limbo. Now, there are reports that LG has bought the OS -- and is readying it for use in a new generation of TV sets. 

Aside from smart watches and such other wearable computing as Google Glass headgear, the next frontier in consumer computing may be a new generation of smart TVs. Industry research firm NPD Group reported in October that smart TVs, with Net connectivity and apps, were “moving from a novelty to mainstream.” Evidence and rumors keep accumulating that Apple will be releasing an innovative smart TV in the not-too-distant-future, Google regularly updates its Google TV, and major set makers like LG frequently add interactive and intelligent features to their TV lineup.

Palm’s Dowry

The terms of the LG deal with HP have not been made public, although reports indicate that LG gets the source code, documentation, what’s left of the original engineering team, related websites and the relevant Palm patents. WebOS originated with Palm, and was reported to have been a key reason HP bought Palm in 2010 for US$ 1.2 billion. The platform was initially seen as promising and innovative, particularly for its emphasis on standardized Web technologies.

After HP abandoned its own webOS products, the company made a half-hearted effort to build momentum behind the platform by releasing it and the accompanying Enyo application framework as open source, but that wave never built.

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HP neglected to put much support into open source webOS, observers noted that the company seemed to be saying there was little or no commercial value in the platform, and HP vacillated about its overall direction in consumer technology. At the time, CEO Meg Whitman said the company would use webOS in other products, but no details were forthcoming.

Whither Open Source, Gram?

In August, an internal HP memo was leaked that revealed the company was spinning off its webOS Global Business Unit into a company called Gram. In October, Gram released an Open webOS Professional Edition to OEMs. There have been reports since last fall that LG was looking at webOS for use in its smart TVs, and has been working with Gram.

It appears that HP is selling the original source code to LG, and that the open source version remains out there. However, that relationship is not clear, nor is the question of whether Gram becomes part of LG’s acquisition.

LG is expected to use webOS as a replacement for its own NetCast smart TV platform, which it introduced in 2009. Google and Apple are at least partially driving LG’s move. Adopting Google’s evolving platform for its TV lineup, in addition to its continued dependence on Android for its smartphones, would put LG into a more vulnerable position. And Apple, being Apple, is probably not going to license any TV platform it develops as competition to LG.