The news was dropped at the end of the press event, and few details were given. At this point, it's not exactly clear if HP plans to turn webOS into a full-on alternative to Windows, or if it will be some sort of an instant-on environment like Splashtop. One thing is clear though: HP is throwing its full weight behind webOS.
Today, we saw the unveiling of two new smartphones, as well as a new tablet running webOS. Later this year, we'll apparently see webOS on desktop PCs and laptops. This is probably wishful thinking on my end, but I think HP has had enough of Windows on the consumer side of things.
The PC and laptop business has been a race to the bottom for a long time now, and Windows OEMs such as Dell and HP are seeing their profits from Windows PCs and laptops decline. There's only one company which has consistently managed, for years now, to increase the profit on their PCs and laptops: Apple.
That's what HP wants to become. They have to offer something to differentiate themselves from the competition, and with everybody using the exact same hardware components from the exact same three companies (Intel, AMD, NVIDIA), the only way to do so is via software. Apple has Mac OS X, and now HP has webOS.
On the consumer side, HP could be transitioning their machines to running webOS, which would extend webOS' cross-device integration (as demonstrated today) beyond smartphones and now tablets to desktops and laptops. Sure, they'll still sell machines with Windows, especially on the business side of things, but webOS will become the consumer-facing, uh, face of HP.
It would give HP the same kind of end-to-end control over their products as currently only Apple enjoys. Considering Apple is making boatloads of money, taking a few cues from their book might not be a bad idea. Of course, it's all wishful thinking for now, but one thing is for sure: 2011 is going to be incredibly interesting.