HP Slate 500 Sold Out, but Number Produced Is Under Scrutiny

Hewlett-Packard's Slate 500, its enterprise-centric, Windows 7-based tablet PC, is supposedly sold out. But online reports question the number of Slate 500 units actually produced.

Hewlett-Packard claims its HP Slate 500 tablet PC, equipped with Microsoft's Windows 7, is on backorder due to "extraordinary demand." But questions remain about how many tablets HP meant to produce.

A note on HP's Website indicates that the HP Slate 500, which is targeted at enterprise users, will ship to customers in six weeks. HP is also reportedly planning tablets loaded with Palm webOS, the spoils of the company's Palm acquisition earlier this year, but no definitive release dates have been announced for that more consumer-centric device line.

Even as HP claimed a hearty sell-through for the Slate 500, at least one online source questioned how many units the company had decided to produce.

Citing a "trusted tipster with a contact inside HP," tech blog Engadget suggested Nov. 13 that HP had planned only a limited production run of 5,000 HP Slate 500 units. When 9,000 customers ordered the tablets, HP "apparently had to re-hire production workers just to get the presses printing out tablets again." Miffed customers are apparently being offered "over $100 off their $800 purchase as apology."

Neither HP nor Microsoft had responded to eWEEK's request for comment.

The HP Slate 500 features an 8.9-inch touch-screen, inward- and outward-facing cameras for video conferencing, a 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor, 64GB of NAND flash storage, and a Webcam port. Pricing starts at $799, and HP offers the device only through its Website.

"Operationally, the Slate 500 has a lot of things going for it," wrote eWEEK's Chris Preimesberger in an Oct. 22 review of the device. "It runs Windows just like a PC, and you can use any browser you like."

However, he also found the Slate "irritating" in some respects. "If all Slates are as slow-moving as the one we tested, HP is going to have to answer to a lot of frustrated users." The touch screen lacked the responsiveness of Apple's iPad. "But with all those important business features, the cameras, the Webcam port and everything else, there will surely be a substantial number of buyers waiting in virtual lines to buy it."

Whether HP plans to make a substantial play for the enterprise tablet market, it faces growing competition in that area from a number of competitors. Research In Motion plans on marketing its 7-inch PlayBook tablet PC for less than $500 in North America, according to reports.

"The product will be competitively priced," RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie reportedly told Bloomberg Nov. 10, and sold through carriers in addition to stores such as Best Buy and Target. The PlayBook features a tablet-specific operating system built on QNX Technology, and will support Adobe Flash, HTML5, multitasking, and high-definition video.

In addition, Apple plans on boosting the enterprise capabilities of the iPad. The company's iOS 4.2 update for the tablet will offer stronger security and device-management capabilities, in addition to AirPrint wireless printing.

Apple currently dominates more than 95 percent of the tablet market, according to research firm Strategy Analytics, although the majority of its competitors have yet to make an appearance on store shelves. "The tablet wars are up and running," Neil Mawston, a Strategy Analytics director, wrote in a Nov. 2 report. "Apple has quickly leveraged its famous brand, an extensive retail presence and user-friendly design to develop the tablet market into a multi-billion-dollar business. Android, Microsoft, MeeGo, WebOS, BlackBerry and other platforms are trailing in Apple's wake, and they already have much ground to make up."

Microsoft executives have previously announced the company's intentions to leave a big footprint on the tablet market. Nonetheless, CEO Steve Ballmer appeared somewhat reluctant to share strategy details during an Oct. 21 keynote talk at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2010. "Devices ship all the time," he told a pair of analysts. "You will continue to see an evolution of devices. That's what you'll continue to see ... there's a next generation of things that will come with the Intel processors."

That seemed a departure from earlier in the month, when Ballmer reportedly told an audience at the London School of Economics: "You'll see new slates with Windows on them. You'll see them this Christmas." He added: "Certainly we have done work around the tablet as both a productivity device and a consumption device."

However, some of Microsoft's largest manufacturing partners-including Samsung and Dell-have begun creating tablets that run Android, making it unclear where Windows tablets would fit within their individual lineups.