What LG’s webOS buy means for Google TV

LG is buying HP’s (S HPQ) troubled mobile operating system webOS, according to reports from CNET and the Verge. However, the company doesn’t want to put the system to use in any of its phones: Instead, LG plans to use webOS to power its smart TVs. That could be bad news for Google, (s GOOG) which has been cooperating with LG on getting Google TV into the hands of consumers.

The deal between LG and HP includes the webOS source code, documentation, websites and what’s remaining of the webOS team. Cloud components such as the webOS app store technology as well as all of the patents will remain with HP, but are going to be licensed to LG. There’s no word on the purchase price.

Most of LG’s smart TVs have been powered by the company’s own app platform, which was originally called NetCast and has been ripe for a refresh for some time. The company also has an ongoing partnership with Google to sell Google TV devices, and in fact has been expanding this partnership in recent months.

LG started to sell two high-end Google TV sets in 2012. In 2013, it will come out with a total of seven models. But consider how LG CTO Skott Ahn announced these models at the company’s 2013 press conference:

“We will continue to serve our Android fans with an extended lineup of Google TV.”

In other words: LG’s Google TVs are, at least for now, niche products for enthusiasts, and LG apparently doesn’t think that will change anytime soon. That’s why the company is looking to replace its own smart TV operating system with webOS, instead of relying 100 percent on Google TV.

That’s bad news for Google TV, but it also shows how Google’s living room play has been changing over recent months. Google originally courted a number of big TV manufacturers for Google TV, with the idea of having the system embedded in a wide variety of TV sets. Sony (S SNE) was one of the first to make Google TVs, LG came on board for the second generation, and Samsung seemed to be ready to go Google as well by early 2012.

A year later, things look very different: Samsung’s Google TV never materialized. Sony stopped selling Google TV sets and instead opted for a companion box. And now, LG is buying its own smart TV operating system.

Does that mean Google TV is doomed? Hardly. The platform has seen some significant adoption in recent months: Asus, Netgear, Hisense and TCL all showed off new Google TV devices at CES, and WD is apparently working on its own Google TV box as well. Earlier this month, a total of 20 hardware partners came together in Seoul to collaborate on the future of Google TV.

But it looks like Google TV settling into a role as a companion box solution, as opposed to a default smart TV choice for the big manufacturers.