H-P Looks to Kitchens, Cars

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By Ian Sherr

Hewlett-Packard Co. wants to persuade appliance and car manufacturers to use its webOS operating system in their products. But the software’s late arrival to the market and relatively small footprint are prompting companies to pause before licensing the platform.

In June, Leo Apotheker, chief executive of the electronics giant based in Palo Alto, Calif., said his company plans to begin talks with various companies to gauge interest in webOS, which powers H-P’s TouchPad tablet computers and Pre smartphones.

H-P says webOS, which uses touch commands and connects to the Internet, can make machines easier to use while adding functionality that customers have come accustomed to in their mobile gadgets.

For example, a touch screen could replace the buttons on a stove, displaying recipes pulled from the Internet. Similarly, a refrigerator could be programmed to make extra ice during certain times of the day.

“We’re looking at expending the base and bringing to the webOS community an ecosystem that inspires developers out there,” said Stephen DeWitt, who is in charge of webOS for H-P. He said there is already an “enormous amount of interest,” but declined to name companies that might potentially license the software.

H-P hopes that getting webOS on appliances and in cars will create an ecosystem of devices and accessories around the operating system. That will encourage developers to write programs that can be used on those products, spurring a market of software like Apple Inc. has done with its App Store bazaar. Analysts say H-P also hopes that licensing the software to manufacturers will create a regular and predictable revenue stream.

The company’s ambitions, however, face a host of challenges from already-specialized software makers and companies uninterested in putting an advanced operating system in their products, analysts and industry insiders say.

 

 

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(Published Aug. 16, 2011 in The Wall Street Journal.)