Should Samsung Buy webOS To Protect Itself From Apple? It Might Make Sense. Here’s Why [Opinion]



Samsung’s in trouble. The Korean electronics giant is being sued by Apple in just about every market for copying Apple’s iOS, iPhone and iPad designs… and Apple’s winning. Worse, Samsung’s biggest mobile partner, Google, just bought out one of their main smartphone competitors, Motorola, for $12.5 billion. Now that Google has an Android hardware team in-house, how much longer will third-party smartphone makers like Samsung be given equal access to the Android operating system?

It’s a tight spot, and Samsung knows it’s in trouble. Samsung boss Lee Kun-Hee reacted to the news of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobiity by telling top managers on Monday to “boost software prowess, patent pools and talent,” as well as seek out opportunities for mergers and acquisitions. Samsung — probably correctly — thinks this will be a quicker way to boost the prowess of their own in-house mobile OS, Bada.

Well, bada bing, bada boom, because a huge acquisition opportunity may have just presented itself. After a single round, HP just threw in the towel on webOS, a mobile operating system they purchased along with Palm back in 2010 for $1.2 billion.

We’re just spitballing here, but maybe Samsung should buy webOS and the Palm business out from under HP? Here’s why it could be a good move.

From Samsung’s perspective, the move seems to make a lot of sense.

For one thing, there’s the patents. Samsung is being sued all around the world by Apple right now for patent and IP violations, but HP ended up picking up a hefty patent portfolio from Palm when they purchased them back in 2010. Palm, after all, basically created the PDA space in the 1990s, and smartphones today are essentially evolutions of the PDA. They’ve got almost two decades worth of patents that are directly relevant to the modern mobile space. That patent portfolio could end up giving Samsung a lot of ammo to fight Apple with.

It’s a bit old, but this Engadget piece analyzing the relative strength of Palm and Apple’s patent portfolios makes it clear that HP is currently in possession of a few doozy patents that could potentially be leveraged as weapons against Apple, covering everything from the way the iPhone handles simultaneous telephone calls to the way it handles brightness control. There’s even a hell of a patent in there that reads like a line-by-line description of how the iPhone’s Phone app works.

Not all patents are made equal, but the trove of smartphone and tablet applicable patents HP bought from Palm would doubtlessly make a difference in Samsung’s fight against Apple.

Then there’s webOS itself. It’s never made much of a dent, but it’s a solid operating system that, with its card based interface, isn’t nearly as similar to iOS as Android is, especially with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. It would help Samsung differentiate itself from Apple’s mobile offerings.

webOS’s strengths haven’t eluded Samsung. In fact, even before HP announced it was killing off its webOS devices division, Samsung was reportedly in licensing talks with HP to put webOS on a smartphone or mobile device.

Samsung, of course, already has their own mobile operating system in Bada, but if Samsung’s chief Lee Kun-Hee’s comments are anything to go by, Samsung doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Bada. Kun-Hee reportedly told his company’s executives earlier this week that they needed to strengthen Bada in the wake of the Google-Motorola acquisition… and put a heavy emphasis on acquisitions.

webOS isn’t exactly a top dog in the mobile OS field, but it still has three years of momentum behind it, with an app market that dwarves the paltry offerings of Samsung Bada OS. It’s also a much slicker offering that differentiates itself dramatically from iOS in key areas.

There seems to be a lot to recommend Samsung to buy HP’s Palm business. The patents would potentially make a huge difference in Samsung’s legal fights against Apple, and having webOS in house would give Samsung a flashier, slicker and more modern mobile operating system to rely on than Bada. It would also help Samsung phase out their dependence upon Google’s Android OS, especially in the wake of the Google-Motorola deal.

But would HP sell Palm, webOS, patents and all? According to HP, they will “continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward,” which could mean anything from trying to sell webOS to someone else to licensing it to third-parties.

One thing that is for sure is that HP is reportedly banking on making an IBM-like transition from mostly being a PC maker to making its money on cloud software and enterprise services. webOS licensing seems like a strange fit in that strategy re-alignment, especially considering how hard it is to make a dent against Apple and Google. Despite practically owning the smartphone space a mere four years ago with Windows Mobile, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 isn’t making much headway in the licensing space. Why license an OS when Google’s giving away Android for free?

Of course, if other Android licensees become disenfranchised after the Google-Motorola acquisition, HP might be in a good position with webOS licensing. Right now, though, it seems like an uphill struggle for HP… a company that is already undergoing a profound transition to a new corporate strategy. So HP may well want to sell of webOS.

But what about the patents? If HP’s exiting the mobile game entirely, those patents would be worth a lot more being sold during the escalating patents arm race than being locked away in a file cabinet.

Will Samsung buy the Palm patents and webOS from HP? There’s too many unknown factors to be sure, but one thing’s for certain: with Samsung being pummeled by Apple in courts around the world, and with Google seemingly turning coat and making preparations to produce Android devices in-house through Motorola Mobility, HP’s Palm patent portfolio and webOS have got to seem like a couple of juicy plums. The only question is how high on HP’s tree they’re dangling, and if they’re as ripe for the picking as they seem to be.

  • rjmarsh65

    WebOS only works on Qualcomm silicon, that may be an issue.

  • Robert Norris Hills

    That and Bada is a POS – Samsungs mobile division saw almost 400% growth last year thanks to android. 

    They rnt jumping ship any time soon. 

  • antonio

    I think facebook should by WEBOS that be great, and Palm hardware

  • ShaunaJames

    awesome I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.
    Here is the website we use to get it all from,

  • lals83
  • cliqsquad

    How much was that directly because of Android? Android is riding the coat tails of the iPhone, handset makers are over saturating the market with Android on desirable devices. If it was WP 7 or any “Modern” OS beside Android they would surely have had success. WP 7 is doing horrible because the hardware sucks and the number of devices released using compared to Android are far more limiting. 

    Samsung is the right company to buy webOS, I would drop my iPhone for a quad core webOS LTE phone without blinking. We need OS competition and hopefully this will bring it. Doubt it tho, Samsung’s roadmap leaked 3 Bada phones, 5 Android and one WP 7 phone. Over saturation is why Android is king of the marketshare. 

  • lals83
  • AshleeNicole09043

    I just p a i d $21.87 for an i P a d 2-64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasonîc Lumîx GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS.I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.
    Here is the website we use to get it all from,

  • JDWages

    To answer the article title’s question: YES.  I’ve read a lot of good things about WebOS and it ought to be developed by someone who has an interest in keeping it alive.  I am very pro Apple, and I believe Apple is right in going after Samsung for copying the look and feel of the iPad and iPhone.  But I also think it would do Samsung well to refresh itself with a non-Android OS.  That coupled with a uniquely different set of hardware designs (to clear differentiate them from Apple’s designs), would be all Samsung needs to get back on the right track.  

    Innovating is the right thing for Samsung in the long term.  Merely creating a copy-of-Apple is not.

  • Li YiXiong, Joel

    Since Google Android is currently in a land grab race against Apple, the chances of them going the route of Apple and locking their OS to Motorola phones is slim to none.

    More likely they will use Motorola to show others how better to integrate their OS with hardware. More likely they are much more interested in ensuring Apple stop suing their clients (aka the phone companies using Android).

    Anyways since Google basically earns money from advertising and information, I really do not think they will go into hardware in a big way. It is in their best interest to get more people on Android thus ensuring as large a base as possible to advertise too and gather info from.

    So Samsung need not worry to much on that aspect. But yeah, buy the patents and stop Apple from the mad patent crazied schemes.

    Also I must say this. Thanks Apple for starting this crazy M.A.D. arm race between ALL mobile phone providers. Your products are very well done and advertising good, but this recent round of legal lawsuits is just crazy. No matter how much power/patent a single company has, no one/country/company can survive if everyone else gang up and start pushing back on many differing fronts.

    Also need to say, as usual it is a USA company going sue crazy. What is with Americans and their need to sue anything and everything under the sun?

    I heard that in USA patenting the wheel, you know the circle thing, is a great art. Great going guys. I hate the current patents system and sue happy companies. As a consumer I want more choices not less. And lawsuits usually are there to limit my choices.

  • lals83
  • lsla5577
  • Harold Cho

    Samsung Bada OS failed gain many users. The mobile industry is dominated by iOS and Android. There will be a room for Windows mobile, but that’s it. The Rest OS won’t stay. 

    Samsung has 19 billion dollars in cash and they need to use them to buy patents. Apple will beat them to death without patents. Apple already sued Samsung in Europe and Australia. 
    Honestly, Samsung did Copy apple and there is no doubt about it. 

  • Robert Norris Hills

    LOL no. For the last 2 years IOS has been riding on the coat tails of android. 

    All your precious “Innovation” is stolen directly from android. 

  • atimoshenko

    In Soviet Russia, ships jumps you. No traditional businessman – and Lee Kun-hee is nothing if not that – would think that Google wasn’t about to royally screw them over with the acquisition of Motorola. HTC may have faith (and few other options), but there is no question about Samsung now aggressively looking to diversify its mobile platform strategy.

  • atimoshenko

    “Since Google Android is currently in a land grab race against Apple, the chances of them going the route of Apple and locking their OS to Motorola phones is slim to none. More likely they will use Motorola to show others how better to integrate their OS with hardware.”

    Which, from the perspective of the 3rd party manufacturers, still (accurately) looks like Google has them over a barrel, and is capable of executing them at its pleasure. To them, it is not what Google wants to do that matters as much as what it now can do. It would be like a 1950s marriage with only Mr Google’s name on all of the accounts, property deeds, and assets…

  • Bozo

    Here is what the Bozo thinks…

  • aardman

    “Also need to say, as usual it is a USA company going sue crazy. What is with Americans and their need to sue anything and everything under the sun? “

    Or I could say “as usual it is a Chinese company going counterfeit crazy.  What is with Chinese and their need to counterfeit anything and everything under the sun?”

    Then I can continue with “there would be no patent suits if there were no IP thieves Mr. Li.  And we all know which country is the biggest IP thief in the world.  By far.”

    So I suggest you stop painting with a broad brush and making sweeping generalizations about entire countries and peoples.  Two can play your game and between accusing a country of being too legalistic and another of being too criminalistic, guess which one is the more shameful trait?

  • WVMikeP

    Samsung has Bada.  Now HTC + WebOS…..

  • ConceptVBS

    20 year patents are worthless.

    Patents expires in 20 years.

    Why would Samsung purchase webOS, just for its expired patents?

  • ConceptVBS

    Then why is Bada more popular than WP7?

  • ConceptVBS

    Bada is more popular than WP7

  • thomin

    Apple should buy the HP PC business, bag the patents and then simply close it down…just because they can…

  • Hampus

    Because it’s on more cheap and shitty phones that WP7?
    Same reason Android is more “popular”…

  • Hampus

    Or they could simply try to make their future device look at least slightly unique? That would solve the lawsuit problems…

  • cliqsquad

    Excuse me, the iPhone was released in 2007 and revolutionized the smartphone market. Google after buying Android in 2005 was busy developing Blackberry clones to kill Blackberry’s. Blackberry’s were king then, so it made since. iPhone came in and blew everything out of the water. Google scrambles and revamps Android to go after the iPhone. So, you see Android has been riding the coat tails of iPhone’s initial success. People wanted an iPhone, or a modern smart phone like the iPhone, Android was there to fill the gaps in the market. Plain and simple. No iPhone, Android would be dead and RIM would still be king. 

    The only thing copied from Android is the damn notification pull down, yet it is more feature robust on iOS than it is on Android. Of course Google will copy Apple’s direction and make its notification drop down more robust as well. What else is copied from Android?

  • Techy8789

    If Samsung bought WebOS, not only could they save their butts from Apple, but they could also make some sweet WebOS hardware!  WebOS is one of the best mobile OSes ever, but it just doesn’t have good hardware.

  • Ajay Ramachandran

    Hi James –

    I completely agree.  Innovation is the key for a company like Samsung to maintain its position as the #2 smartphone manufacturer.

    As the largest WebOS development firm that also has a lot of expertise on iOS and Android, we believe that Samsung would benefit from WebOS and could create new devices that would be highly differentiated from Googorola Android devices and Apple iOS devices.  

    With that said, Samsung would have to innovate in other areas to gain ground on Apple. WebOS could certainly give Samsung an elegant and powerful smartphone OS, but Samsung would need to add Mobile cloud services (media management, DRM, storage, gaming, payments, etc.) to really give apple a run for their money.