Hewlett-Packard confirmed during its Aug. 19 earnings call that a device running its recently acquired Palm WebOS operating system will ship sometime in early 2011. Although the company executive who confirmed the "product" offered no other details, the general assumption is that HP will load WebOS onto a tabletlike device.
"You'll see us with a Microsoft product out in the near future and a WebOS-based product in early 2011," Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said during the call.
Rumors had previously suggested an early 2011 launch for a WebOS-based tablet. HP acquired Palm earlier this year for $1.2 billion, leading to speculation that the company would use the new assets to make an aggressive play in both the smartphone and tablet spaces.
HP announced strong results for the third fiscal quarter of 2010, with net revenues of $30.7 billion. Increased enterprise sales helped drive those numbers, but company executives hinted at a lack of demand in the consumer notebook market. As demonstrated by Apple's robust quarterly results, however, a bestselling tablet device has the ability to add substantially to even a large IT company's bottom line.
With that in mind, companies besides HP are also moving into the tablet PC market. Dell recently released the Streak, a 5-inch touch-screen device, and LG Electronics is reportedly hurrying to produce a tablet PC running Google Android.
"Our tablet will be better than the iPad," Chang Ma, vice president of marketing for LG's mobile devices unit, told The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 19. "It's going to be surprisingly productive."
Other rumors suggest that Research In Motion is working on an iPad competitor of its own. While RIM has offered no confirmation of this, Mobile Crunch reported in July that the company had purchased the domain BlackPad.com, which could hint at a possible name for such a device.
HP's plans for the tablet space could be fairly elaborate, or at least bifurcated: During July's Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, Bradley was quoted as saying, "Our focus is working with still our largest software partner, Microsoft, to create a tablet for enterprise business."
During the conference, Bradley also said: "I think you'll see us with a family of Slate products, clearly a Microsoft product in the enterprise, and a WebOS product broadly deployed."
But creating a truly enterprise-ready Windows 7 tablet may require some radical retooling of the operating system, according to some analysts.
"The tablet market that the iPad is exploring, Microsoft initially identified and tried to target with the incomplete Origami effort," Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told eWEEK July 29, referring to Microsoft's ultraportable PC project. "Origami did showcase that you could likely do an iPad-like product with a Windows core, but you'd need to rethink the interface."
According to Enderle, "Either hardware would need to improve to provide the performance and battery life needed, or Windows would have to be modified to live under existing hardware limits, much as Apple did with ... the iPad."
During June's D8 Conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that Windows could indeed be customized to fit the needs of a lightweight, keyboard-free device. However, HP has given no indication whether the "Microsoft product" due in the near future will feature a modified version of Windows 7.