HP WebOS Event Feb. 9 May Include Several Tablets

HP has invited the press to a WebOS announcement, though not at CES but on Feb. 9. The wording of the invite also hints there may be more than one device.

Hewlett-Packard has passed around invitations to a WebOS event Feb. 9 that appears to mean the introduction of its tablet is finally imminent. That said, don't expect to see any hints of an HP tablet at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

More exactly, tablets may be the case at the event next month. The invitation for the media event reads: "Think big. Think small. Think beyond." Will HP have two sizes to show off? Three? All that's known for now is that the PC maker, which first announced plans to purchase Palm and its popular WebOS in April 2010, has for some time been working on a tablet running an updated version of the operating system.

Jon Rubinstein, the former Apple employee who became CEO of Palm after spearheading the Palm Pre and WebOS, and who's now in charge of Palm within HP, has promised an early 2011 launch of the tablet (tablets!), but has revealed little more.

In mid-December, BMO Capital Markets analyst Keith Bachman, after a trip through Asia, told analysts on a call that the HP tablet would arrive in March, and it appears he was right.

He also hit the nail on the head in offering, "Everyone we met [on the Asia trip] is planning to build tablets. ... It will be a very crowded market in 2011."

At CES, a number of new competitors to the HP tablet -or more exactly, the Apple iPad - will be introduced.

Toshiba is expected to introduce a tentatively titled Toshiba Tablet, running Google's Android 2.4, known as "Honeycomb," and featuring a 10.1-inch display (on the diagonal). According to the Associated Press, a Nvidia dual-core Tegra 2 chip and WiFi-only connectivity will be on board, and the tape measure will show it to be just a hair larger than the iPad, at just over half an inch thick.

Netbook pioneer Asus has hinted that it will introduce a handful of tablets, at least two of which will also run Honeycomb and feature 10-inch displays. Expect one tablet with a detachable keyboard, and another with a slide-out keyboard.

Other Android-running tablets will also come from television-maker Vizio (which will also introduce a smartphone), e-reader-maker Pandigital and the newly slim and light Motorola, which on Jan. 4 shed an enterprise portion of the company, a move that should enable it to now better focus on smartphones and tablets.

In a Jan. 4 research note on Motorola Mobility Holdings from financial services firm Jefferies & Co., analysts Peter Misek and Jason North highlighted a fact about the planned Motorola tablet that may work to HPs advantage.

"While Android has certainly helped Motorola, and others, to turn its sales figures around, the widespread adoption of the OS may make it difficult for Motorola to differentiate its handsets and tablets from a slew of competitors offerings [that] will be using the same OS," they wrote.

HP's Rubinstein, in discussing the second incarnation of WebOS, told attendees at the December D:Dive Into Mobile event that this is just the beginning.

Helping HP to differentiate itself from the crowd may just the beginning of what HP's mobile investment proves it has to offer.