Palm and webOS’s Savior May Be…Amazon?

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Could Amazon be lining up to grab Palm away from Hewlett Packard? VentureBeat claims it’s heard as much from “a well-placed source” (well, aren’t they all?). Amazon’s said to be in “serious negotiations” to snatch Palm from HP, and that HP’s more than ready to divest itself of the once-prominent smartphone manufacturer turned webOS hardware and software developer.

Amazon’s not alone in courting Palm, says the source, but it’s “closest to finalizing the deal.” Recall as well that former Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein, still listed as part of HP’s “product innovation” group, joined Amazon’s board less than a year ago. Cue conspiratorial “ooohs” if you must.

(MORE: HP TouchPad Might Not Be Dead After All)

But what kind of a deal? HP officially abandoned webOS in August, signaling the end for smartphones and tablets running the mobile operating system. Customers scooped up HP’s webOS-powered TouchPad in droves after HP slashed its price to just $99, and IDC says it expects “close to a million TouchPads to ship into the channel before the end of the year,” raising webOS’s market share to a respectable 4.7% in 3Q 2011—but the research firm says that’ll drop back to zero by early next year.

Would Amazon really be a good home for webOS in an Android-iOS world? Would anyone?

VentureBeat argues yes:

By purchasing the remnants of Palm, Amazon would have free rein to redesign webOS to its own liking, and it would be able to further differentiate its Kindle devices from the slew of Android tablets in the market.

And even though HP has given up entirely on its webOS hardware business after the TouchPad tablet failed spectacularly, there’s still plenty of potential for webOS to power a successful device. Palm’s mobile software was praised for its slick multi-tasking capabilities, which could allow future Kindle Fire tablets to juggle games, movies and media with more finesse than Android.

I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic. webOS’s strengths and weaknesses aside, I can’t see a third OS seriously challenging Android or iOS at this point, and if Amazon’s the buyer, especially not with the aggressively priced Kindle Fire representing the way forward for the company. What, Amazon’s going to push more aggressively than any other Android tablet maker into the Android market space, then introduce an umpteenth Kindle variant powered by a proprietary platform with trifling third-party support? Really?

Of course it could be a much longer-term gamble, a way to quickly buy into the your-very-own-OS game—an OS that respectably vamps on Linux—and prepare to do battle with Google and Apple at the platform level years down the road. But with its now ineluctable thrust into the Android space courtesy the Kindle Fire, if Amazon’s hoping to out-OS Mountain View and Cupertino by snatching up Palm, it’s biggest challenge will lie in drumming up a respectable, attractive, full-bodied webOS ecosystem, pronto.

MORE: Amazon Services, Not Pricing, Is Why the Kindle Fire Is Disruptive

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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