During his appearance at D9 today, HP CEO Leo Apotheker mentioned in passing that he thinks his company can get "some partners" to help distribute webOS, prompting us to ask whether they'd be willing to license webOS to third parties. Specifically, we gave the tantalizing (and purely hypothetical) example of HTC coming along and inquiring about manufacturing a webOS-powered phone. His answer was straightforward: that's a conversation they'd be "open" to having. Clearly, HP intends to have a full suite of webOS-powered devices of its own -- PCs, printers, handhelds, the whole nine yards -- but it seems like bringing third parties into the equation has the potential to blow the platform's market appeal wide open.
Though he didn't close the door entirely, Palm CEO (and current HP employee) Jon Rubinstein had been pretty soft on the idea licensing his operating system prior to the HP acquisition, so this marks a big change in strategy -- and it's a nod to Apotheker's statements that HP is as much a software and services company as anything else. webOS is a platform play for them, and it seems that the boss is anxious to get it spread out to a maximum footprint by any means necessary.
Of course, it's possible Apotheker misunderstood the question -- his original point about pushing webOS through partners could've referred more to distribution channels than third-party manufacturers, for instance -- but either way, it's something to keep an eye on as HP really puts its shoulder into moving this platform over the next year or two.
Update: Check out the video of the entire exchange -- instigated by our own Joshua Topolsky -- right after the break.