If all of the usual sources are right, which sometimes happen, Hewlett-Packard will finally announce its long-awaited iPad competitor on Feb. 9. The new WebOS-based device would be about the same size as Apple's iPad, but it would run on an updated version of Palm's highly regarded WebOS.
The new tablet would actually ship to customers in March. According to a story in Engadget, the new device will offer features that Apple does not, including cloud-based storage, true support for Adobe Flash and true multitasking.
Right now the new tablet is known only by a code name, reportedly Topaz. Another smaller tablet, said to be named Opal, may arrive in late summer. HP has already confirmed that there will be a tablet announcement at the February meeting, but has so far not provided any details. HP acquired Palm, and with it WebOS, during the summer of 2010, and to date has not made any significant announcements regarding devices using the OS.
However, HP has confirmed that it will be announcing a line of WebOS devices including the tablet. Most observers say HP is overdue for a new line of Palm smartphones in light of the steady stream of announcements from carriers regarding Android and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices. The current WebOS devices are essentially the same as what Palm was selling before HP acquired the company.
So what should you expect from HP's new tablet? While we probably won't find out too many details before the February announcement, some information can be gleaned from existing WebOS devices. In addition, HP has a much longer history of building tablets than other companies, including Apple. The difference is that HP's tablets were Windows devices aimed at specific verticals rather than consumer devices aimed at things like e-readers and music.
But HP's experience with tablets over the years is sure to influence the design of the device, as is the experience Palm gained from selling WebOS into the enterprise. While Apple does sell the iPad as an enterprise device and includes a number of enterprise features, HP has vast experience in this arena. You can expect that enterprise-critical features such as support for corporate networks and e-mail systems will be in this device from day one.
Likewise, you can expect that HP's new tablets will have a well-designed touch screen because of HP's own experience in the area, but also because of Palm's long history with touch-screen technology. Remember that hand-held touch-screen devices all trace their heritage back to the original Palm Pilot that existed nearly a decade before iPhones, Android devices or even WebOS. Unfortunately, there's no indication whether Palm or HP plans to bring back Graffiti handwriting recognition, which would seem to be a natural for a device such as a tablet with a touch screen.