After serving as the subject of rumors, the struggling mobile device company has a new owner, HP. The tech giant paid $1.2bn for the company that invented the smartphone.

Not only was HP not one on the list of companies thought to be looking closely at a Palm acquisition, but one might even question why HP was interested in Palm in the first place. The answer: HP has big goals in the mobile arena, and thinks Palm’s technology and expertise can help it achieve them.

Specifically, HP has high hopes for Palm’s mobile operating system, webOS. In a press release announcing the acquisition, HP EVP Todd Bradley was quite up front about this:

Palm’s innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP’s
mobility strategy and create a unique HP experience spanning multiple mobile
connected devices.

He went on to say that “Advances in mobility are offering significant opportunities, and HP intends to
be a leader in this market.
” One of the opportunities HP is known to be pursuing: tablet computing.

Apple obviously got a head start on the competition with the launch of the iPad, but HP is gearing up to launch the Slate. While it may still offer a Windows-based version of the Slate, it seems logical that webOS will eventually find its way onto the Slate at some point. And it will likely make its way into other mobile devices that HP manufactures.

Of course, webOS isn’t exactly the iPhone OS. It certainly eliminates the need for HP to start from scratch in developing its own OS, but HP certainly can’t expect that the webOS is going to deliver mobile success on its own. HP can use webOS (and other Palm IP) as a starting point, but will need to deliver quality mobile devices if it hopes to become a real player in the mobile device space.

For Palm, the HP acquisition must be somewhat bittersweet. While we’re still talking about a billion-dollar deal here, Palm’s journey from mobile pioneer to HP acquisition really represents a stunning fall. The good news for Palm is that HP will probably take Palm’s IP and run with it, and rely heavily on the mobile expertise of the Palm employees it keeps around. Had Palm been acquired by a company like HTC, it’s far less likely that Palm would have been able to make the kind of long-term impact on its acquirer that is has the potential to with HP.

But at the end of the day, Palm as we have known it is dead. Long live Palm.

Photo credit: whatleydude via Flickr.