Whatever you may think of our good friend Steven P. Jobs, esq - and I dare say you're not alone if your thoughts include phrases like "pompous", "arrogant" and a variety of anatomical references including sphincters and the such - the man had a point when he said that the computing landscape is changing. I don't know if we're entering a "post-PC era" even though that will be what it'll be called for the next decade or so, by virtue of the fact that Jobs said it. But I digress.

If you're taking an era approach to computing, however, there are a few remarkable trends emerging as we're entering the new era of everbody owning a handful of computers (i.e. any given person might own a desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet).

The last era was characterized by two discrete development strategies. You had the horizontal strategy, championed by Microsoft, that saw one company do the software and all other companies do the hardware - and you had the vertical strategy, championed by Apple, that saw one company do software and hardware at the same time. Microsoft clearly won that round.

Now, at the dawn of the new era (whatever you want to call it), we can see a new, hybrid strategy emerging: platforms that are both vertically and horizontally integrated.

Google started out with the classic Microsoft approach of making the software and giving it to OEMs so they can make hardware, but it was obvious that something had to give at some point since they couldn't ask any money for Android because licensing it is expensive enough as it is with all of the patent fees OEMs have to pay.
So Google bought Motorola to also have vertical integration that gives them hardware profits as well as control over the hardware for better all-around experiences. As a customer, you'll be able to choose between cheaper but slightly inferior OEM hardware and slightly superior but more expensive hardware from the 'champion' manufacturer.

Microsoft also started this era with their classic approach, licensing out WP7 to a bunch of OEMs - but they, too, have since changed this approach with their stealthy hostile takeover of Nokia (I know that's not technically what happened, but there simply is no phrase that I'm aware of that describes the act of terminating one of your executives, letting that executive become the CEO of another company, and then letting that executive make that other company your slave). They, too, are now offering horizontal OEM integration as well as tighter, vertical integration if you buy from the 'champion' manufacturer.

Apple is a bit of a special case here as unlike any other company in the consumer electronics space, they're not just a computer company but also very much a fashion company. While their products are certainly good, their quality is nowhere high enough to justify the Apple tax - but their coolness and style is. They simply wouldn't be able to maintain this sheen of exclusivity if they licensed out their stuff.
They're like Gucci. Their clothes are the same quality as any other number of much less trendy and respected brands are offering, and they're even produced in the same chinese sweatshops as the ones you'd buy from the mall. But they're cool precisely because they're expensive and exclusive. If you could buy Gucci at the mall, they wouldn't be so cool anymore.

So the landscape of the established brands is like this now:

Google (software only) & Motorola (hardware champion) + any number of OEMs.
Microsoft (software only) & Nokia (hardware champion) + any number of OEMs.
Apple against the rest of the world.

(There's also RIM, but their situation in 2011 is, in my opinion, exactly the same as Palm's situation in 2007. We'll see what happens with them, but I predict a buyout in their future - or if they're not bought for patents, they might even become another software player's champion manufacturer.)

Google and Microsoft have decided on new strategies that will give their platforms the best of both the vertical and horizontal worlds. With the amount of capital and midshare concentrated in Google and Microsoft, I wouldn't hesitate to call the decisions of just two companies a "trend" (which is in fact just what I'm doing here).

HP, with their previous strategy that just got the axe, wanted to compete with Apple as a completely vertical experience - but they simply didn't have the coolness they would've needed to compete with them on the same level. HP is very much NOT a fashion company like Apple is, and no matter how cool Leo wanted HP to become, it's unlikely that they would ever have become as fashionable. So they need a new strategy.

While we don't have any news about licensees yet, there may have been some strategy to what HP is doing after all: there are a lot of rumors going around that Samsung and HTC are interested in licensing webOS, and there are also some quite heavy rumors that Samsung is interested in buying HP's Personal Systems Group. If true, that would imply a very strong partnership between Samsung and HP going forward.

HP, meanwhile, has restated that they bought Palm for webOS, and that they want to be a software company going forward, which is why they're trying to get rid of the PSG.
Stopping the production of their own devices turns them into a company that specializes on software only and can put all of its weight behind software development and innovation without having to fight on the hardware front while their hardware partner(s) can, similarly, focus on hardware improvement and innovation without having to worry about software.

If this is true and things pan out the way HP seems to want them to (keep in mind that I'm still working with the premise that HP doesn't make business decisions on whims, even though that's how things are looking to us uninformed consumers), that would make webOS another "hybrid" of vertical and horizontal integration:

HP (software only) & Samsung (hardware champion) + any number of OEMs.

Of course all of this is a house of conjectures, built not just on sand but on rumored sand, which you could well say is even less solid than quicksand. But I do think that the new era of computing is gearing up to be more cooperative than the old one, with vertical as well as horizontal ties between multiple companies within each ecosystem except Apple's - and HP's recent decision, no matter how rash it seemed, may have been designed to make webOS a "hybrid" platform... in fact, the very rashness of it may have been a swift reaction to Google's decision to become a "hybrid" platform.

This is just something that occurred to me while I was lying at the lake earlier today, so if you want to attribute it to a sunstroke, that's your prerogative. But there may just be some truth to the trend towards hybrid platforms - and HP may just have decided to join that trend.
Remember, hope is the last thing to die.