HP WebOS Tablet Coming in March: Analyst

HP's WebOS tablet is expected to drop in March, Forbes reported citing BMO Capital Market's Keith Bachman. HP's Rubinstein has only offered "early 2011" as a time frame.

Jon Rubinstein, the head of Hewlett-Packard's Palm division has rather lamely, or at least vaguely, confirmed that an HP tablet running WebOS will arrive in "early 2011." Thanks to an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, however, that date has been narrowed down to March.

Analyst Keith Bachman, after meeting with more than 30 tech companies in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, told analysts during a Dec. 13 call with investors that the tablet will drop in March, Forbes reported the same day.

While the tablet will be the first to run WebOS, the Palm operating system, Bachman wasn't "overly optimistic" about its prospects, calling it a "niche market" for HP and a device that will be "interesting on [the company's] margin," wrote Forbes.

Bachman reportedly added that, "Everyone we met with [on the Asia trip] is planning to build tablets. ... It will be a very crowded market in 2011."

Indeed, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has a tablet, the PlayBook, planned for early 2011, while the Android-running Samsung Galaxy Tab - which, far from exclusive, is debuting with all four major U.S. carriers - has already well exceeded the 1 million units mark. Dell currently offers the 5-inch Streak tablet, and has plans for a 7-inch version.

On Dec. 14, The New York Times reported that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will likely take to the stage at January's Consumer Electronics Show with a number of tablets running Microsoft's Windows 7, including units from Samsung and Dell.

And of course, crowding the space more than any other, there's also the Apple iPad, the device that single-handedly rejuvenated the form factor that Microsoft first launched around 2000. During the third quarter of this year, the iPad fairly owned the tablet market, with a 96 percent market share, according to Strategy Analytics.

Analysis firm iSuppli expects Apple's iPad shipment rate to reach 2.5 million units per month, by year's end, and for overall tablet shipments for the year to total 13.8 million units. That figure is expected to barrel forward to 43.7 million units in 2011 and 63.3 million units by 2012.

BMO, however, is more conservatively forecasting 40 million tablets to ship worldwide in 2011, according to Forbes, with the iPad accounting for more than half of them.

Looking to avoid head-on competition with the iPad - at least for now - HP geared its new Slate 500 tablet for the enterprise market, not consumers. It's based on Microsoft's Windows and priced at $799 - but it also features more horsepower (there's a 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor inside), more storage (64GB of NAND flash), two cameras, a Webcam port and Adobe Flash.

Until March, however, fans of WebOS will have to wait for a tablet running the open-source platform. So far, HP has only launched the OS on the Palm Pre 2, which was far from the exciting new product many expected, following HP's acquisition of Palm.

At the D:Dive Into Mobile event in San Francisco earlier this month, Rubinstein reportedly came out in feisty mood. According to the Associated Press, he implied that the Pre 2 was hardly all his team had up its sleeve, telling the crowd, "This is just the beginning. It's not -game over.'"