LG Buys webOS Code to Use in Smart TVs

HP has sold LG Palm's celebrated but unsuccessful OS. LG plans to use webOS in TVs, cars and other devices that don't yet have platforms.

LG Electronics has acquired Hewlett-Packard's webOS mobile operating system technology for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced Feb. 25.

HP had inherited the OS when it purchased Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010, and since then company officials have mostly debated what to do with what is widely considered excellent software that never made it into hardware that enough people wanted to buy. LG's plan is to put webOS into smart TVs.

LG will acquire the webOS source code, associated documentation, engineers who have been working on the OS, related Websites and licenses for the use of HP intellectual property, while HP will retain control of the webOS patents—a major reason that HP purchased Palm.

HP will also continue to support Palm users, and will retain ownership of all of Palm's cloud computing assets, including its source code, infrastructure and talent, while LG will take on stewardship of the Open WebOS and Enyo open-source projects.

"This groundbreaking development demonstrates LG's commitment to investing in talent and research in Silicon Valley. ... It creates a new path for LG to offer an intuitive user experience an Internet services across a range of consumer electronics devices," Skott Ahn, president and CTO of LG, said in a statement.

"The open and transparent webOS technology offers a compelling user experience that, when combined with our technology, will pave the way for future innovations using the latest Web technologies," Ahn continued.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ahn went into more detail, explaining that, given the current success of Android, LG has no desire to make smartphones running webOS, but instead plans to use the OS in televisions and other devices—such as cars, signs and appliances—where there aren't already operating systems.

"We'd like to secure a software platform across all devices," Ahn said, according to the Times.

If LG is successful in its pursuit, patent-holding HP, which was rather battered by the Palm purchase, would finally benefit from the Palm deal. The Times notes that the LG deal likely doesn't cover the Palm purchase price, or the investments HP made in webOS over the years.

Analysts expect that the smart TV market—which Apple is expected to soon join—is poised for dramatic growth.

A December 2012 study by YuMe forecast that one in five homes will have a smart TV in 2013, while a study the same month from Strategy Analytics predicted that 2012, at its close, saw 54 percent growth in the smart TV market, with sales of about 53 million units in 2012 and sales nearer to 180 million units by 2017.

In 2012, China became the world's largest smartphone market, and in 2013 Strategy Analytics expects it to become the world's largest markets for smart TVs.

Japan, with 21 percent market share, led the smart TV market in 2012, followed by the United States, China and Germany. Strategy Analytics expects Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic to continue to compete using products based on their own or third-party platforms, including Google TV.

"Smart TVs help manufacturers drive near-term sales growth, but they are also a longer-term strategic play," David Mercer, vice president and principal analyst with Strategy Analytics, said in a Jan. 3 statement announcing that there were already more than 100 million smart TVs installed in homes worldwide.

"Major vendors like Samsung and Sony believe they can establish smart TV-based content and service platforms to support new revenue streams," Mercer added, "but we won't know whether this strategy is successful for several more years."