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Has HP done enough to rival the iPad?

James Niccolai | Feb. 9, 2010
HP hopes the OS, which offers tight integration with other webOS devices, will set its TouchPad tablet apart

Voicemail and text messages received on a smartphone can also be made to pop up on the TouchPad, to avoid missing messages, HP says. And with a feature called Synergy, users can sign into their Facebook, Google, Microsoft Exchange, LinkedIn and Yahoo accounts from a webOS device, and any contacts, calendar entries and e-mails from those accounts will be downloaded to the webOS device.

HP claims there are other features that will set webOS apart, including the way several applications can be active on the screen at one time. They appear as what HP calls "cards" -- basically windows -- that can be flicked off the home screen with the swipe of a finger, or stacked on top of each other for related tasks.

"WebOS shows you your activities in the form of cards, not a sea of application icons on numerous home screens," HP said in a statement, an apparent swipe at both Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS.

But good technology is only part of the battle. Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, noted that HP is taking on a lot for a company that is relatively new to the consumer electronics business. The company is assuming control for the whole platform -- software, hardware and applications.

"This is an entirely new business," he said. "There are a lot of challenges."

What's more, he said, the version of webOS shown Wednesday is basically a new operating system, and HP will have to convince users to take a chance with a new platform instead of sticking with Apple's established iOS.

"The hardware looks nice," said Roger Kay, industry analyst with EndPoint Technologies. But HP has yet to reveal any prices, he noted, and by the time the TouchPad appears, there will be even more tablets on sale based on Google's Android software, plus the PlayBook from Research in Motion -- not to mention an expected "version two" of the iPad.

Kay also noted that users will need both a TouchPad and a webOS phone to get the full experience. "If your contacts aren't in a webOS environment ... you have to start from the beginning," he said.

HP also must still attract an army of software developers to build applications, Kay said.

But HP insisted webOS will be an attractive target for developers. The company claims to sell, on average, 120 printers and 120 PCs every minute. "You do the math on two PCs a second and two printers a second," Bradley said. "You easily exceed 100 million Web-connected devices annually."

And despite Apple's early lead, the market for tablet computers is still young. "We're still in the early stages of a market that's going to continue to grow in size, importance and relevance," Bradley said.


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