HP WebOS May Benefit From Frustrated Android OEMs

HP's webOS could find footing among OEM partners such as Samsung, Motorola and Sony, which have grown frustrated with competing against low-cost Android smartphone and tablet entries.

Samsung, Motorola and other makers of high-end Android smartphones have become frustrated enough with Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) mobile operating system that it might open the door for another mobile platform player: HP's webOS.

Samsung, HTC and Motorola (NYSE:MMI) are the leading Android smartphone makers, with all three enjoying market share gains versus Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and RIM's (NASDAQ:RIMM) Blackberry devices in the past two years.

However, the advent of low-cost Android devices may be gradually changing the sentiment of good will toward Android.

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdry said Motorola, Samsung and Sony are starting to feel that their premium handsets and tablets have little-to-no differentiation in the eyes of the customer against $20 Android phones from Huawei, or $150 tablets from ZTE.

These vendors further fear that Android and its gross fragmentation across multiple OS versions, carriers and devices may dilute their global brand.

Sony, Motorola and Samsung are "extremely worried" that customers are beginning to pick devices based on Apple's iOS instead of their Android phones and tablets, Chowdry said.

"As things stand today, Android has probably peaked, and probably will start showing slow and gradual decline," Chowdry added.

This opens the door for HP, whose CEO Leo Apotheker has said the company might be amenable to licensing webOS to these handset and tablet makers.

WebOS would enable only two or three reference designs for only three or four OEM partners to limit the fragmentation that exists within the Android ecosystem, Chowdry suggested.

The analyst believes HP could license webOS for somewhere in the range of $50 to $75 per OEM smartphone or tablet, enabling the company and OEMs partners such as Samsung, Motorola and Sony to drive their premium brand at the expense of low-cost rivals such as Huawei and ZTE.

Moreover, since webOS is not free, the customer may be willing to pay for applications, making HP potentially a more viable OS option than Android to Apple iOS and the popular App Store.

However, tech analysts believe Chowdry's scenarios are unlikely, citing Samsung's strong commitments to Android on smartphones and Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" tablets, among other factors.

"While anything is possible with Samsung (they seem to do one of everything ever made), it's unlikely HP would be that anxious to license WebOS, and it's less likely that Samsung would want it without having a significant ecosystem in place to promote it (e.g., lots of apps and user demand)," industry analyst Jack Gold told eWEEK in an email.

Gold added that he doesn't see WebOS making it as a general Android OS replacement for vendors other than HP, which will, no doubt, push WebOS as being superior to Honeycomb.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said there would be interest in an alternative to Android or Windows from other OEMs, but the value proposition has to be clearly defined.

"The key question for the platform owner is how to maintain a unified personality for the platform without allowing OEMs to fragment it with their own user interfaces and application frameworks," said Hilwa. "My guess is some will be willing to look at an alternative, but it is hard to get the formula right."