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HP says it will build new webOS powered tablets by 2013

While stating her company would "bet heavily with Windows [8 tablets]" in the short term, HP chief executive Meg Whitman stated that the company will return to building a webOS tablet by 2013, if not next year.

Whitman made the comments in an interview with TechCrunch, joined by HP board member Marc Andreessen.

Earlier today, Whitman publicly announced plans to retain webOS internally and offer the platform up through an open source program, without detailing what type of license the company planned to offer the software under.

Instead, Whitman spoke only in general terms about contributing to and investing in the mobile platform, which HP acquired as part of Palm in a $1.2 billion deal last spring.

But Andreessen remarked in the new interview that with webOS released as an open source project, there will be future webOS tablets from a variety of vendors, adding that HP would be among the companies designing new tablet hardware for the webOS platform. Whitman added that HP might not produce new webOS tablet hardware in 2012, but would reach the tablet market by 2013.

The company has previously stated that it would not be making new webOS smartphones, but has only suggested that future tablets would be exclusively based on future versions of Windows. This makes the new reiteration of support for HP branded, webOS based tablets an interesting commitment, particularly given such a long timeframe.

HP waffles on tablet platform strategy

At the beginning of 2010, HP debuted a Windows 7 powered "Slate PC" alongside Microsoft's Steve Ballmer just prior to Apple's unveiling of the iPad. That device was a dismal failure, and the challenge of the iPad sparked an effort to buy Palm and develop a true tablet competitor using that company's already in progress webOS tablet platform.

Just weeks after launching its first webOS tablet this summer, HP's previous chief executive Leo Apotheker canceled the TouchPad and other webOS hardware projects, noting poor sales of the device and a new direction for the company.

Apotheker was then himself spun off as HP's chief executive and Whitman was appointed in his place. Rather than affirming support for webOS however, Whitman spoke exclusively at the time of HP's plans to deliver a tablet next year running Microsoft's Windows 8, which isn't expected to be completed before the end of 2012.

Her announcement today that HP would eventually return to building custom tablets running webOS is therefore a surprise, and presents a strange cycle of waffling between Microsoft's platform and HP's own. By hedging both of its bets, HP is sending strange signals about its commitment to either Windows 8 or webOS. HP has also dabbled with Android, but hasn't delivered any successful products with that mobile platform either.