HP, Palm, RIM, Android to Boost iPad Tablet Competition

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-08-23

HP, Palm, RIM, Android to Boost iPad Tablet Competition

A Hewlett-Packard tablet device is coming in early 2011. This should be no surprise to anyone since HP already sells a tablet device. But the difference is there will be more than one such device, and one of them will be running Palm's webOS.

It's important to remember that HP has been selling tablet PCs for several years. These machines run Windows, and they've found a strong vertical market where they are really the only choice. In areas such as health care, the HP tablet is the only real device that offers support for the applications the customers need and for the security demanded by regulators. The iPad just isn't in the same league when it comes to industrial-strength computing, but that should be no surprise either, since it was intended to be a consumer gadget.

In the Windows arena, at least, what you'll see is a new, updated version of the HP tablet PC, with a new version of Windows that's more fully optimized for portable use. It's not a consumer device, and isn't intended to be. While you'll be able to buy one of these from HP's online store, you won't be getting an iPad competitor.

But there's another HP tablet coming. As Nick Kolakowski explained a few days ago, the tablet based on the Palm webOS is also set for release in early 2011. Unlike its Windows-based brother, this device will be aimed at the consumer market. But unlike the iPad, it'll come with some enterprise-friendly features carried over from other webOS devices. These features will include complete corporate e-mail integration, for example, and enterprise-grade security. So while it'll be targeted at consumers, a lot of those consumers will be corporate executives.

Does this mean that we can expect to see hype similar to that surrounding the iPad? It's hard to say, but I doubt it. Few CEOs are as adept at spinning hype out of thin air as is Apple's Steve Jobs. Likewise few CEOs are as good at convincing customers to willingly accept design glitches and manufacturing flaws as Apple. So unlike Apple, HP won't be given a free pass on antenna problems or internal glue spots. Their tablet and other webOS devices will have to actually work.

But few companies are in a position to make a tablet work as well as HP. This company has years of experience making tablet devices work in the hum-drum industrial and enterprise marketplace. While their products may not be the sexy, sleek tablets we see from Apple and others in th consumer market, HP's models are in fact, reliable, rugged and very fast. They also have a variety of communications options, including WiFi in its many flavors and a variety of 3G choices. More important, you're not limited to using AT&T as your only choice.

HP, Palm Have the Experience to Create a Superior Tablet

So what would an HP tablet look like? The Windows device will probably look like just what it is - an upgrade to the current HP tablet. It'll likely consist of a body containing a keyboard and some of the communications gear, like a wired Ethernet connector. The screen, as is the case in current devices will be large enough to be useful, will be fully touch sensitive, and will handle handwriting. Mass storage will be in the screen portion, as will wireless networking. No surprises here. You can expect improved battery life in some models; again, no surprise.

As for the webOS tablet, look to the current Palm devices for some clues. Palm has had touch-screen technology long before the iPhone has existed. It had a form of handwriting recognition that worked well (once you learned Graffiti) and an on-screen keyboard that could be oriented in either landscape or portrait mode. WiFi has been standard for years, and so have on-screen icons and an app store.

With the latest Palm devices you got something new in terms of a much more capable OS, slide-out keyboards and a variety in your choice of carriers. While I found the new keyboards a little hard to use because they were small and my hands are pretty large, at least they were there if you'd rather use them instead of a touch screen.

There's no question that Palm has the know-how to produce a tablet that's superior to the iPad. It's also likely that it'll offer features that the iPad doesn't. Perhaps those features will include a slide-out keyboard. Perhaps handwriting recognition will appear in these devices. It's very likely that you'll have more than one choice for your 3G carrier. It may even include a phone function. And of course, all of those functions carried over from Palms of yore will certainly reappear, like a music player, video and photo viewer and a document viewer-editor. It will almost certainly sync with Outlook and other corporate e-mail systems.

And that's just Palm. We already know an Android tablet is on the way, and there's no reason not to expect most of the existing Android applications to work on it, except maybe for the phone-related apps (unless the Android tablet also contains a phone) and there are rumors, as well, of a RIM tablet.

The good news is there will be a lot of competition, and the better news is that this competition will mean that all of the tablets will get better. We won't be left to the whims of Apple to define what's cool and what sort of tablet we're allowed to have.

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