HP webOS Tablet Challenged by iPad, Android, PlayBook

HP is expected to launch its webOS TouchPad tablet computer Feb. 9 to challenge Apple's iPad, Google Android machines and RIM's PlayBook. Analysts are already skeptical about the TouchPad's future.

When HP introduces its webOS tablet Feb. 9, it will be casting another line into the tablet ocean where top brands Apple, Android tablet makers and Research in Motion are already trolling for new customers.

That prospect, and HP's past failures in making new consumer electronics products fly in the market, has some analysts skeptical about the device's viability.

HP's TouchPad, as many are calling it, will be swimming with Apple's market-defining iPad and machines based on Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system, such as the Motorola Xoom. Even RIM's PlayBook has cultivated mindshare, with some enterprise-minded buyers eager to tether a tablet to their Blackberry smartphones.

Except for comments from HP Executive Vice President Todd Bradley all but confirming the webOS tablet is launching during the HP event in San Francisco Feb. 9, HP has officially kept mum on the device.

However, several leaks indicate the TouchPad should be a 9.7-inch tablet powered by a 1.2GHz processor. The TouchPad would appear first in WiFi-only on March, with 3G/4G version following later.

Despite the fact that HP has been selling its Windows 7-based Slate for corporate users, Caris & Company analyst Robert Cihra believes the company's tablet strategy is 99 percent focused on webOS as HP angles to leverage assets culled from its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm.

However, excepting Wintel PCs and printers, HP has a poor track record entering new consumer electronics markets, said Cihra. He pointed to unsuccessful attempts in MP3 players, TVs and handhelds.

"We see even bigger stakes and challenges in tablets/smartphones where in-house software is key," Cihra said in a Feb. 4 research note. "Yes, Palm brought its very well-regarded webOS and engineers, but not much market momentum."

"On the one hand we're encouraged to see at least try to field its own value-added platform, rather than just a me-too Android box, we remain skeptical HP can convince consumers and developers that webOS is even relevant."

Even though Cihra expects 54 million tablets shipping in 2011, 36 million of those devices will be iPads.

Ultimately, HP is in a tough position to compete with the Xoom launching this month, the iPad 2 and PlayBook expected to launch in March, as well as the Toshiba tablet, LG G-Slate and other Android tablets coming later this spring.

Meanhwile, J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz sees other challenges for the webOS tablet, namely that any application ecosystem for the device remains an unknown quantity at a time when Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market are guiding those tablets.

The risk, Moskowitz said, is that HP introduces a fine device with a strong OS, but doesn't have the apps and content to lure users. Stay tuned until tomorrow.