HP's TouchPad + webOS: A Game-Changer?

By  Martha Walz — February 15, 2011

Last week, HP announced two webOS-driven smartphones--the Veer and the Pre3--and a 9.7-inch tablet, dubbed the HP TouchPad, also running webOS. HP believes that webOS running on these mobile devices will offer a unified mobile experience across all devices and calls it one of the building blocks in its vision to “seamlessly connect all your worlds through the power of HP webOS.”

Those are some pretty strong words, and it’s clear that HP is banking on webOS to be the key differentiator between its tablet offering and the dozens of tablets on the market. Is it just another mobile operating system, or is it truly something different?

TouchPad basics

The TouchPad has a 9.7-inch display with 1024x768 resolution. It contains Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor and weighs in at 1.6 lbs.

“A quick session with the on-screen keyboard revealed the capacitive touchscreen to be as sensitive as you might expect, and on first impression HP has made a great start on customising the smartphone-focused webOS apps and user interface,” says Jonathan Bray of PC Pro.

webOS features true multitasking and lets the user run multiple applications simultaneously. webOS shows these activities in the form of cards, as opposed to the typical sea of application icons on numerous home screens in other mobile OSes.

“The card metaphor works well,” explains Fritz Nelson at InformationWeek. “Any application, or piece of data, can be a card that appears on the tablet screen, and users swipe through them. It’s mulitasking at its easiest. HP has added the concept of stacked cards, where users can keep related items (Web pages, for example, or e-mails).”

“As with previous webOS-based devices, the TouchPad handles multitasking beautifully,” agrees PC Pro’s Bray. “Hit the button on the edge of the screen and up pops the ‘card view,’ representing the various applications running in the background; sweep left and right and the cards all scroll by.”

HP’s new touch-to-share feature is unique among tablet devices. It uses HP’s Touchstone technology to transfer information between the TouchPad and other webOS smartphones, by simply tapping the smartphone on the tablet’s edge.

“Of all the new WebOS capabilities, touch-to-share is the most innovative feature,” says Information Week’s Nelson. “If you're viewing a Web page on the TouchPad, for example, but you need to become mobile and take a Pre3 smartphone with you, by simply tapping the Pre3 onto the TouchPad the Pre3 will assume and display the same Web page (or whatever content is on the tablet screen).”

The future of webOS

During the TouchPad launch event last week, HP said that it was planning on rolling out webOS to a variety of devices, including PCs. HP envisions all of a user’s devices being integrated through the same operating system—whether it’s on a wired or wireless device.

“The PC announcement created, instantly, an almost limitless target for developers,” says Information Week’s Nelson. “In other words, if developing for webOS phones and tablets wasn't enough of a draw, now your apps would run on the PCs of the world's leading PC maker. That had to send a few shock waves through Apple, Google, and Microsoft.”

“Further implications make things even more interesting,” he continues. “Imagine having a webOS camera, tapping it on a webOS printer, and getting a high-quality photo printout. Imagine loading directions on a webOS PC and tapping your webOS phone and getting navigation on your phone. Naturally, these scenarios require an HP-centric technology world.”

Fighting an uphill battle

While these scenarios are exciting to imagine, HP has an uphill battle to get to that point.

“HP just entered into a crowded market,” says Stephanie Ethier, senior analyst, In-Stat. “Of course, there’s Apple and its glorious iPad.  And the tablets running on Google’s Android are making serious strides in capturing market share. In fact, many are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Android 3.0, more sweetly called Honeycomb. Motorola will be the first to bring the updated OS to the masses with its impending Xoom tablet launch.  This is just to name a few of the big competitors HP now faces."

The TouchPad doesn’t yet have a price point, and it’s not due out until summer. By then the second-generation iPad will have launched, and it is clearly the market leader. How will the TouchPad compare?

According to John Paczkowski at All Things Digital, “If HP’s integration story proves to be as good in practice as it sounded on stage…(printers, phones, PCs and tablets all connected via webOS), the TouchPad could mount a decent challenge to the iPad–even if it doesn’t arrive at market until after the debut of the iPad 2.”

Regardless, the webOS news signals just the kind of competition the tablet market needs to keep manufacturers on top of their innovation game.          

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