Now HP and Dell know what they're up against when they start to build tablet computers to run the new Windows 8 operating system, and it's not just the tablet king Apple iPad, but their own software partner Microsoft.
Rather than just rely on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and others to preinstall Windows 8 on the new PCs they manufacture, Microsoft followed the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs' "the whole widget" philosophy and introduced the Surface tablet June 18 in Los Angeles. While Microsoft still plans to license Windows 8 and the related Windows RT to manufacturers as it has always done, it'll be sharing it with Windows OEMs, two in particular, whose tablet presence in the market is rather weak.
HP thought it could respond to the iPad by acquiring Palm in 2010, taking its webOS mobile operating system and installing it on a tablet called the HP TouchPad, which it began selling July 1, 2011. Just 49 days later, HP killed off the TouchPad. At about the same time, then CEO LÃ©o Apotheker announced that a strategic assessment was under way to determine whether the entire Personal Systems Group (PSG) within HP would be spun off as a separate public company or, perhaps, even sold. Soon after Meg Whitman replaced Apotheker as CEO on Sept. 22, that sword of Damocles was removed from above PSG's head.
HP also open-sourced the webOS software, which is now being developed by a group called Enyo. However, a couple of tech news Websites reported May 25 that Matt McNulty, one of the Enyo engineers who, according to Wireless Mobile News, was responsible for "99 percent of the code," reportedly left Enyo for Google, home of the Android tablet OS. Google declined to confirm that.
This whole picture begs the question of whether HP has the talent or even the inclination to build a new line of tablets by fall, when Windows 8 is to be released. Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, thinks the answer is yes.
"On the x86 side, they probably have most everybody that they need in the PSG engineering group to develop an x86 tablet. That's not a long stretch," said King, who notes that HP has considerable experience with the x86 Intel chip architecture that has long powered HP desktop and notebook computers. Windows 8 will come in two variations, one for x86 architecture tablets and Windows RT for ARM-based devices.
As for HP's ability to make an ARM-based tablet, King is confident that ARM processor manufacturers such as Broadcom and Nvidia would be happy to sell some consulting services to their OEM partners along with the ARM processors.