HP could return to webOS to make new tablets in 2013, using the freshly open-sourced platform for larger mobile devices though smartphones are still off the menu. Having announced that webOS will be an open-source platform moving forward, and then confirmed that there are no immediate plans for new webOS devices, HP CEO Meg Whitman conceded in an interview with TechCrunch that tablets could still be on the cards, albeit after the company's Windows 8 push.
2012 will see HPs Windows 8 based tablets reach the market, the company has previously suggested, using Microsoft's freshly updated platform with its finger-friendly Metro UI. The OS has obvious advantages for HP, being directly compatible with its laptop and desktop hardware, and thus applicable both to a consumer market looking for iPad/Android tablet alternatives, and enterprise/vertical markets needing something that can integrate with an established ecosystem of Microsoft-based PC hardware.
Beyond that, however, HP seems keen to "explore the viability of putting webOS on devices" according to its open-source FAQ, though whether that exploration will result in a commercial release remains very much to be seen. The company says it "plans to remain active in the development and support of webOS" but that "making webOS open source will accelerate the development of the webOS platform and application ecosystem."
Nonetheless, even with a webOS team within HP, without flagship hardware from the company to demonstrate the potential value of the platform it's hard to imagine that other manufacturers would be inspired to adopt it themselves. With no guiding hand putting its production money where its mouth is - and HP in fact vocally insisting that, for the meantime, it is wedded to Microsoft and merely considering the possibility of webOS devices "as we do for other leading operating systems" - the software advantages may not be sufficient to convince that there's commercial viability, especially given HP's own struggles selling webOS tablets and phones.
That leaves the option of treating webOS as a niche platform, again something presenting limited hope for the sort of broad adoption it will require to sufficiently challenge Windows, Android and iOS, or hoping that another manufacturer will be not only capable of handling commercializing the OS better than HP has done, but willing to do so without full control of the software moving forward.