HP, RIM Tablets Duel for Enterprise Customers

News Analysis: HP rolls out its Slate 500 at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, while RIM shows off PlayBook. Both companies say their tablets are aimed at the enterprise market.

Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion demonstrated at the Gartner Symposium/IT xpo 2010 in Orlando, Fla., that there is more than one way to slice the tablet market.

Both companies highlighted their tablets, both aimed at the enterprise market, and both tablets are as different from the Apple iPad as they are from each other. Could this mean a fragmentation of the tablet market or, rather, is it simply a market that is too broad for one device to satisfy?

HP is the first out of the gate with an enterprise tablet. The Slate 500 went on sale just after midnight on October 22 on the HP Website. Chris Preimesberger, who examined the device, describes it as being narrower and lighter than the iPad. More significantly, the device runs Windows 7 Professional.

According to HP's press materials, this tablet is designed as a business machine rather than as a consumer electronics item. This means that it comes with Microsoft Office 2010, as well as a stylus for entering handwritten notes and writing e-mails. The Slate 500 includes a docking station with additional USB ports and a video port, and it sports two cameras--one facing to the front and one to the rear for video conferencing and taking photos. The four-finger multi-touch screen means that you aren't dependant on the stylus to use the Slate.

What's less well-known is that tablet computers aren't new at HP. I used the first one well over a decade ago. In those days, the device was more like a laptop with a detachable screen with the keyboard on the bottom. Enclosed in the screen section were a battery, the hard disk, the WiFi radio, and a socket for holding the electronic stylus. You needed to use the stylus or a USB mouse and keyboard to use the computer. Over the years, HP has updated its line of tablet computers, and the Slate 500 is a logical evolution of that product line.

RIM's tablet, meanwhile, might be aimed at the enterprise, but it has little in common with the HP Slate. The RIM device is designed to be used in conjunction with a BlackBerry smart phone. Like the HP, the PlayBook has support for WiFi and Bluetooth. Also like the HP, it does not have a 3G or 4G radio. The PlayBook is made to sync with BlackBerry devices, and it's designed to tether to them for access to high-speed wireless Internet.

RIM claims the PlayBook is also not competing with the Apple iPad for consumer dollars. While about half of all BlackBerrys are sold to consumers, it's hard to imagine a large number of consumers wanting their tablet tethered to their phone.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...