If all of the usual sources are right, which sometimes happen, Hewlett-Packard will finally announce its long-awaited iPad competitor on Feb. 9. The new WebOS-based device would be about the same size as Apple’s iPad, but it would run on an updated version of Palm’s highly regarded WebOS.
The new tablet would actually ship to customers in March. According to a story in Engadget, the new device will offer features that Apple does not, including cloud-based storage, true support for Adobe Flash and true multitasking.
Right now the new tablet is known only by a code name, reportedly Topaz. Another smaller tablet, said to be named Opal, may arrive in late summer. HP has already confirmed that there will be a tablet announcement at the February meeting, but has so far not provided any details. HP acquired Palm, and with it WebOS, during the summer of 2010, and to date has not made any significant announcements regarding devices using the OS.
However, HP has confirmed that it will be announcing a line of WebOS devices including the tablet. Most observers say HP is overdue for a new line of Palm smartphones in light of the steady stream of announcements from carriers regarding Android and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices. The current WebOS devices are essentially the same as what Palm was selling before HP acquired the company.
So what should you expect from HP’s new tablet? While we probably won’t find out too many details before the February announcement, some information can be gleaned from existing WebOS devices. In addition, HP has a much longer history of building tablets than other companies, including Apple. The difference is that HP’s tablets were Windows devices aimed at specific verticals rather than consumer devices aimed at things like e-readers and music.
But HP’s experience with tablets over the years is sure to influence the design of the device, as is the experience Palm gained from selling WebOS into the enterprise. While Apple does sell the iPad as an enterprise device and includes a number of enterprise features, HP has vast experience in this arena. You can expect that enterprise-critical features such as support for corporate networks and e-mail systems will be in this device from day one.
Likewise, you can expect that HP’s new tablets will have a well-designed touch screen because of HP’s own experience in the area, but also because of Palm’s long history with touch-screen technology. Remember that hand-held touch-screen devices all trace their heritage back to the original Palm Pilot that existed nearly a decade before iPhones, Android devices or even WebOS. Unfortunately, there’s no indication whether Palm or HP plans to bring back Graffiti handwriting recognition, which would seem to be a natural for a device such as a tablet with a touch screen.
HP Needs to Stock Up on WebOS Apps
Other enterprise management features that HP already supports in other platforms are likely to make an appearance. You can expect support for Office applications, encryption, file sharing and peer-to-peer communications. There’s no word yet on whether you’ll be able to beam messages between devices as you could with Palm organizers.
Some sources are reporting that HP will be offering significant amounts of cloud-based storage-perhaps as much as 50GB-that users will be able to share between WebOS devices. This will eliminate the need to keep separate copies of media such as photos, music or e-books on each device as you do with Apple’s devices. On the other hand, it would mean that you would have to have some sort of wireless connection when you wanted to access this material, which kind of leaves out using material in the cloud when you’re on an airline flight, for example. With luck, there will be a way to download the content you’re going to need on your flight before you take off.
Until someone actually gets to use the device, we don’t know for sure whether it will sport features such as the iPad’s accelerometers that let the screen change orientation when you move the device. There’s also no word on whether Amazon will offer a version of Kindle for the new tablet, although it’s hard to believe it won’t.
It’s also not known what HP and Palm have in mind for a WebOS app store. Without a healthy supply of applications designed for this platform, HP’s tablet will find competing against the iPad and the various Android tablets very difficult indeed. Right now the existing supply of WebOS apps is pretty limited. But will HP have a plan in place to make a large number of widely diverse applications available when the device ships? HP isn’t saying, and there’s been a dearth of rumors in that area, which makes one suspect that application support may be lacking, at least initially.
It’s worth noting, however, that HP has been down this tablet road before. Its Windows tablets may not have set the world on fire, but they’ve been steady sellers for a very long time. One has to believe that this experience will count for something. Right now, however, we just don’t know what that might be.