Arik Hesseldahl

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What LG Will Do With webOS

You may be forgiven if you’ve all but forgotten about webOS, the mobile operating system that Hewlett-Packard picked up with its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in 2010. Today HP announced that South Korean electronics giant LG Electronics has acquired the rights to use the operating system in forthcoming smart TV products.

I just got off the phone with Bill Veghte, executive VP for software and solutions at HP, and Dr. Skott Ahn, president and CEO of LG Electronics’ mobile operations.

Veghte told me that the acquisition grew out of a series of discussions that HP and LG held around a potential partnership. It wasn’t long before LG simply offered to acquire webOS outright. The deal, Veghte said, will include the source code, documentation, a license to all the associated patents (HP won’t be letting those go) and the remaining user experience team. People associated with the cloud services infrastructure that had been part of the webOS operations will stay with HP. Veghte wouldn’t comment on exactly how many people will be moving from HP to LG. Financial terms aren’t being disclosed.

Ahn told me that webOS will become a “core technology of LG,” and that “we would like to incorporate it first into our Smart TV platform, and then in the future in other devices.”

What other devices? Probably not phones and tablets. LG is pretty firmly in the Android camp there. But there are other appliances that might benefit from webOS, Ahn said, like refrigerators and other appliances and also smart signage.

So there you have it: webOS will appear first in TVs, and then perhaps later in other household appliances from LG.

LG has a technology called Smart ThinQ that it embeds in some models of refrigerators, laundry machines and kitchen ranges. I found a video from CES demonstrating what Smart ThinQ is like now. So maybe down the road you’ll see the legacy of webOS there.

Update: The official press release just moved. Here it is:

LG Electronics Acquires webOS from HP to Enhance Smart TV

LG to License HP IP, Integrate webOS Technology into Next-Generation Devices

SEOUL, Korea, and PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 25, 2013 – LG Electronics Inc. has acquired the webOS operating system technology from HP, the companies announced today.

To support its next-generation Smart TV technology, LG has entered into a definitive agreement with HP to acquire the source code, associated documentation, engineering talent and related websites associated with webOS. As part of the transaction, LG also will receive licenses under HP’s intellectual property (IP) for use with its webOS products, including patents acquired from Palm covering fundamental operating system and user interface technologies now in broad use across the industry.

Today’s announcement paves the way for continued innovation on the webOS platform and on LG’s roadmap of innovative solutions for many years to come, while allowing HP to focus its resources on strategic business opportunities such as cloud computing.

“This groundbreaking development demonstrates LG’s commitment to investing in talent and research in Silicon Valley, one of the world’s innovation hotbeds. It creates a new path for LG to offer an intuitive user experience and Internet services across a range of consumer electronics devices,” said Skott Ahn, president and chief technology officer, LG Electronics Inc. “The open and transparent webOS technology offers a compelling user experience that, when combined with our own technology, will pave the way for future innovations using the latest Web technologies.”

Ahn explained that LG Electronics’ investment in webOS technology and its acquisition of the innovation team’s R&D capabilities are expected to extend LG’s leadership in bringing Internet services directly to consumer electronics devices. “Integrated with LG, this team will be the heart and soul of the new LG Silicon Valley Lab, focused on bringing innovative technology solutions to market through the most popular platforms for sharing and consuming content and experiences,” he said. With the transaction, LG will add the Sunnyvale and San Francisco sites to its global R&D locations, in addition to its existing U.S. sites in San Jose and Chicago.

Also under the agreement:

LG will assume stewardship of the open source projects of Open WebOS and Enyo. HP will retain ownership of all of Palm’s cloud computing assets, including source code, talent, infrastructure and contracts.

HP will continue to support Palm users.

“WebOS and its associated community deliver market leading platforms for the next generation of connected devices. We are constantly looking for opportunities to accelerate the delivery of this platform from the community,” said Bill Veghte, HP’s chief operating officer. “LG’s track record of innovation and broad distribution provides this opportunity, while enabling HP to accelerate our Cloud efforts. In particular, with the cloud assets that will remain with HP, we will focus on delivering innovative solutions that will enable our enterprise customers to mobilize their workforce.”

HP and LG do not expect this transaction to have a material impact on either company’s financial statements. Terms were not disclosed.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik