February 10, 2011 2:18 am

Mixed response to HP’s first tablet

Hewlett-Packard introduced a touchscreen tablet computer similar to Apple’s iPad and said it would deploy the same operating system on personal computers in a bid to win support from independent programmers.

HP had dropped broad hints that a touchscreen tablet, as well as smartphones, would be coming following last year’s $1.2bn acquisition of Palm, but the extension to PCs, where HP is the world’s top vendor, came as a surprise.

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That could offer developers of applications that run on such devices an incentive to make software for the operating system, called webOS, that HP took from Palm and is putting into the new devices.

WebOS smartphones have drawn praise from reviewers but have been lacking in applications – apps – because of their minimal market share. Programmers instead have dedicated their labours to creating apps for Apple’s iOS, which runs the iPhone and iPad, and for Google’s Android, which has been rapidly gaining share in smartphones and is moving into tablets this year.

“HP is taking a new approach to the entire ecosystem of mobility,” said Todd Bradley, HP executive vice-president. “We’re committed to help build this ecosystem.”

The 9.7-inch display tablet, dubbed the HP TouchPad, will go on sale this summer in a WiFi version, executives said, with 3G- and 4G-capable versions to come. HP also showed off two smartphones, the Pre 3 and the Veer, which can function as mobile hot spots, giving even the earliest TouchPads mobile connectivity to the internet.

HP held back many key details, including pricing, wireless partners and countries of first availability.

Jon Rubinstein, the Palm executive who now oversees the HP mobile device initiative, told the Financial Times that the tablet pricing “will be competitive” with the iPad and other rivals.

He also implied that webOS will not displace Microsoft’s Windows from HP’s core personal computer business, but come as an addition. “Think of it as enhancing the user experience,” he said.

Microsoft has struggled to make versions of its software that work well with a touch-based interface, as do Android, webOS and iOS. In addition, touch interfaces do not work well on standard PCs, because holding the arm straight out is tiring, industry executives say. HP this week announced new computers that recline, however, making them easier to control with fingertips.

Investment and technology analysts gave the HP strategy mixed initial reviews. They continued to heap praise on webOS itself, which allows viewing of Flash video. WebOS also integrates information from multiple sources seamlessly, for example presenting a calendar that draws simultaneously from Facebook, Microsoft’s Outlook and other data sets.

But they questioned the amount of developer interest and the timing of the release, noting that Apple’s next-generation iPad is expected to be shipping by April.

“Along with a nice operating system, we believe that HP’s channel strength, link to its printing franchise, and overall brand strength could enable it to be one of the few relevant tablet players far behind Apple over the long-term,” wrote Ben Reitzes, Barclays Capital analyst.

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