After a noticeable absence at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) is apparently on the verge of introducing smartphones, tablets, and netbooks based on Palm's webOS operating system. Introductions could come as soon as next month.
According to several online news outlets, HP has distributed training materials to carrier partners AT&T (NYSE: T ) , Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) , and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) . Documents and a video supplied by the company describe forthcoming devices to be powered by webOS.
Further details should be available on Feb. 9. HP personal systems chief Todd Bradley confirmed in a recent CNBC interview that a series of webOS-themed announcements would be made that day. Speculators will no doubt posit what HP's iPad alternative will look like and how it might leverage webOS.
Me? I couldn't care less about HP's tablet. With so many slates already planned for Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) forthcoming Honeycomb edition of the Android operating system, HP faces long odds against making a serious play for the tablet market.
Netbooks are a different story. Users still like the form factor -- we saw hundreds at CES -- even if there's still plenty of work to be done to make these devices as attractive as upscale alternatives such as the MacBook Air.
Google aimed to help shepherd the movement with its lightweight Chrome OS, but executives have been eerily silent on this issue for months now. HP could help fill the void by introducing a netbook based on a slick hardware design with integrated webOS.
The very idea has scared me into reconsidering my thesis for shorting the stock. I still think HP investors will enjoy only limited upside in 2011, but a wide-open netbook opportunity makes a short too dangerous at these levels.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Will HP profit from webOS netbooks? Will Google ever give us a Chrome OS netbook? Use the comments box below to explain your thinking. You can also rate HP in Motley Fool CAPS.
What will be the big trends of the next five years? We asked our top equity analysts that question and they came back with five stocks we've put real money behind. We profile all five picks in a new special report. Get instant access by clicking here -- it's free.