HP To Put WebOS On Every PC It Ships In 2012

While Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) are currently dominating most of the mobile development community’s time and effort, many people think there is room for a third player. HP (NYSE: HPQ) plans to play a very interesting card in hopes of getting developers to think of it as that third wheel.

New HP CEO Leo Apotheker is really just settling into the job, but he’s putting a plan into place that will see HP install its WebOS mobile operating system acquired from Palm (NSDQ: PALM) onto every PC it ships next year, according to an interview he gave with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. HP first announced its intentions to ship PCs running both Windows and WebOS at an event in San Francisco last month, but it wasn’t clear how far or wide it intended to take that strategy.

Now we know: it’s nothing less than the 63 million PCs HP ships a year, assuming it holds onto its lead as the largest PC maker in the world. The implementation may be tricky, but if HP can blend WebOS into the familiar Windows interface in a way that resonates with its customers, it could dramatically increase the number of people looking for WebOS applications.

And that could help boost HP’s WebOS smartphone and tablet prospects. Once a number of basic features are gracefully fulfilled by a mobile OS, the most important factor in the buying decision is the number and quality of applications available for the platform. HP simply doesn’t have all that much momentum right now with developers, given the lack of new hardware and software since it purchased Palm a year ago, although the new models previewed in February are expected this summer.

That could change if developers know they can reach a much more massive audience than Pre owners. There’s an awful lot of details in the technical implementation that need to be addressed before it’s clear whether or not this strategy will work, but it’s an interesting gambit that HP’s mobile computing competitors can’t duplicate.

It’s also a kick in the ribs to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), whose largest customer for its one of its most profitable divisions has just declared its intention to promote its own software. This is what Apple CEO Steve Jobs is talking about when he refers to a “post-PC” era; an era in which the assumptions and strategies that governed the 25 years of the PC are no longer necessarily relevant.