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10/2/2011
10:49 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Amazon Poised To Acquire WebOS?

HP's mobile platform could insulate the Kindle Fire from Android-related patent infringement suits.

Amazon has been making inroads into the mobile device space since it launched the first-generation Kindle. While the Kindle was largely a single-purpose device focused on e-books, it could also play games, music, send snippets to social network sites, and it even had a rudimentary browser. A tablet it was not, but as an e-book reader, it excelled. It single-handedly propelled the e-book market into the mainstream and its low cost, paper-like e-ink screen and battery life-- counted in weeks, not hours--have made it the number-one e-book reader on the market.

Amazon last week introduced the Kindle Fire alongside several new Kindle Touch devices. The Fire is a different beast. This is the first Kindle that is in color. In addition to ebooks, the Fire aims to dominate digital content like music and videos. Underneath the user interface and apps is Android. Color, video, touchscreen, and more make the Fire a true tablet, though it won't run Android apps.

This makes Amazon vulnerable to patent infringement suits, just like Samsung, HTC, and other manufacturers using Android. Microsoft and Amazon already have cross-licensing agreements on intellectual property, but those agreements don't cover the Fire. Given their friendly relations in the past, I expect any agreement between the two firms will be hammered out in a conference room and not a court room.

Amazon may be taking steps to avoid future agreements though. There is another platform that has been proven on smartphones for years and had a tablet that got good reviews. Remember webOS? HP killed internal development a few weeks ago, just 16 months after buying Palm. Now "well placed sources" say that Amazon is close to finalizing a deal with HP for the operating system, according to Fierce Wireless.

I don't expect Amazon will jump into the phone business, so webOS fans of the Pre and Pixi devices shouldn't get their hopes up. Fans of the Touchpad, though, may have reason to celebrate, or at least be cautiously optimistic. It wouldn't take too much effort for Amazon developers and webOS developers to get in a room and spec out the Fire 2, powered not by Android, but by webOS.

That gives Amazon amazing freedom to tailor the operating system to its needs. It also insulates the company from patent infringement issues. Palm had a healthy patent library and that would be part of any deal Amazon makes with HP, either through a purchase or broad licensing agreement in the event HP wants to retain ownership for its own uses.

If Amazon's bid for webOS is successful, do you think it will be content with making increasingly better ebook readers, or will it take on the iPad, something no other tablet manufacturer has done with any success?

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