Could webOS be the third major mobile platform with Samsung’s help?

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As a platform, webOS has impressed nearly every reviewer who’s touched it, but it faces a few hurdles. One of those hurdles, the device’s hardware choices, could be cleared if the licensing talks that Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker says are underway bear fruit.

Bloomberg reports Apotheker said HP is “talking to a number of companies,” many of which “have expressed interest,” but declined to name any names. Three people familiar with the negotiations say Samsung is among those involved in the talks, according to Bloomberg. Samsung declined to confirm whether it was involved in any discussions.

Samsung has done extremely well using licensed Android software to power its mobile devices, including the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets. It has more recently built devices running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 operating system and it also runs its own Bada mobile OS on certain phones. Adding webOS would add a fourth mobile operating system for Samsung, which could be a daunting undertaking.

But a partnership with HP could make a lot of sense for the Korean smartphone maker. A deal with HP might allow Samsung greater control over OS personalization options, one of the sources who spoke to Bloomberg suggests. It would also allow Samsung to hedge its bets if Android cools or WP7 fails to take off. And webOS is, as mentioned, regarded highly by those who’ve used it.

Of course, Samsung licensing webOS doesn’t address the lack of quality third-party apps available for the platform, which is probably its greatest weakness. But a big name partnership with a company that has shipped as many phones as Samsung has is sure to attract more developer interest, even if Samsung only initially puts webOS on a small number of devices, like it has done with Bada. HP doesn’t necessarily have the mobile hardware reputation to attract smartphone buyers, but Samsung does, and it has managed to do so with an OS that isn’t nearly as slick and refined as webOS.

Just slapping webOS on Samsung hardware isn’t a guaranteed home run, but if it does happen, and it brings developers to the platform, it stands a good chance of offering RIM and Microsoft a solid race for the smartphone bronze.

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