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During a conference call this afternoon, HP executives emphasized that the deal to acquire smartphone maker Palm is about more than phones. Executive Vice President Todd Bradley described Palm’s WebOS operating system as something that can also power tablet computers (or, as HP prefers to call them, “slates”) and the low-end laptops known as netbooks.

That helps explain HP’s interest in Palm — not only does it want to move into the booming smartphone market, but this could also help with HP’s tablet effort, which currently uses Microsoft Windows. (Business Insider previously predicted that if HP bought Palm, tablets would be a big part of the reason.)

It sounds like HP sees WebOS as something akin to Google’s Android — an operating system that starts in smartphones, but could expand to many other devices.

An analyst on the call wondered why HP wants to buy and develop its own operating system, rather than just using Android. Bradley emphasized the early-stage nature and big potential of this market. He added, “We clearly believe in choice,” saying that HP will still work with partners on some devices, naming Microsoft specifically.

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