Can HP reignite the netbook market with webOS netbooks?

A new training site for webOS sheds light on HP's mobile plans - and they include netbooks.

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HP surprised people by opting not to show any webOS tablets at CES. Instead, the company borrowed a page from Apple's playbook and announced that it will be holding a special announcement event on February 9th. The event is expected to showcase webOS tablets (and possibly additional webOS phones beyond the Palm Pre 2) and tempts members of the press with the tablet "Think big. Think small. Think beyond."

Apparently one of those three teasers refers to something that has so far not been picked up by the technology rumor mill: webOS netbooks.

Late last week, HP set up a training and information site for carrier stores. The site contains a lot of training resources to help sales staff become familiar with webOS and provides information on the benefits of webOS as a platform. A common theme in the training materials is the ability for webOS to be installed one a wide range of devices.

That isn't new information. HP specifically mentioned using webOS technology in devices other than smartphones when it acquired Palm. It's no real secret that the company has been developing webOS tablets and has begun to use the web-centric and Internet features of webOS in printers. Those offerings sit next to the already available Palm Pre 2 smartphone (one of the few completely unlocked smartphones available for retail sale in the U.S.).

What is new, according to Pre Central, is that the operating system will support and specifically references netbooks as one of the varying devices capable of running webOS. While there have been some brief mentions of webOS netbooks in the past, they've been pretty obscure and largely forgotten. After all, it's easy to think of netbooks as yesterday's technology with the success of the iPad and the launch of so many other tablets at CES.

A webOS netbook is actually an interesting concept. webOS is a lightweight OS that should run very well as typical netbook hardware. Its interface places web and cloud services front and center (it is named webOS after all), much like Google's Chrome OS. One big difference is that webOS still features local apps and data storage. That could make webOS not just an interesting entrant into the tablet race, but a big competitor to Google's Chrome OS in the netbook space as well.

There's also an interesting advantage for webOS when it comes to netbooks. It isn't a scaled down version of a desktop OS (like Windows 7 Starter) and it isn't completely dependent on the web and Internet access (like Chrome OS). It also isn't an OS that was developed in a vacuum. It is part of a range of devices that should all be able to run the same set of apps (perhaps with some variations as you see between the iPad and the iPhone). That gives it a unique and multifaceted appeal.

What may be even more appealing is that webOS could offer a form of standardization that pretty much lacking in the mobile device market. A single OS could run on your phone, tablet, and the netbook you carry around with you to do tasks that require a more traditional PC or notebook like those that are easier to do with a physical keyboard and more full size screen (HP could even push the envelope and create full-sized webOS notebooks). That's a lot more unified from a user experience perspective (not to mention and IT deployment and management point of view) than say an Android phone, iPad, and Windows 7 Starter or Chrome OS netbook.

Of course, that's exactly the sense of ease and value that HP is betting on with its webOS strategy. Whether it can pull that strategy off remains to be seen. Getting developers on board for webOS as a platform and making development easy for such a range of devices is going to be the biggest hurdle HP faces. Getting the public to buy into the concept will be the second biggest obstacle (made all that much more difficult by the lackluster launch of the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi and the general idea that webOS is a failed or marginal platform).

What do you think? Is webOS a viable mobile platform for smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and printers? Would you consider buying a webOS netbook? Give us your take in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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