Can HP's WebOS and TouchPad Slow Down the iPad?
Pricing and branding
The TouchPad's pricing will mirror Apple's 16GB and 32GB Wi-Fi-only iPads at $499 and $599, respectively. Mirroring the iPad's form factor and price points allows HP to make a true head-to-head comparison with Apple's tablet. The price point also matches those of many 10-in. Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Toshiba Thrive and the Motorola Xoom -- though the Xoom doesn't offer a 16GB option -- and the 7-in. PlayBook by BlackBerry maker RIM.
A final advantage for the TouchPad should be brand awareness. HP is a trusted, well-known brand, particularly in business and enterprise circles. That could give the TouchPad a boost, particularly if HP builds mobile device management into the webOS 3 as well as or better than Apple did in iOS 4.
Many IT managers are likely to see the HP brand, its enterprise-friendly solutions road map and familiar enterprise sales teams as a big advantage over Apple's iPad or any Android tablets. Apple is building more enterprise support into its products, but still doesn't reach out to enterprises the way other IT vendors do.
Brand awareness is, of course, one of the big advantages the BlackBerry PlayBook has, though it's undercut by the device's limitations. It's also one advantage that the Android-powered Cisco Cius will have when it ships.
Other 'iPad killers'
The TouchPad is the latest of several "iPad killers" to hit the market, although the others haven't found much success in the consumer or even business markets.
For example, despite high expectations, sales of the Xoom have paled in comparison to iPad sales, which topped 1 million within a month of Apple's introduction of the tablet in April 2010. A lot of reasons have been bandied about for the Xoom's slow start: its higher price tag (and the requirement that Verizon service must be activated on its 3G model, which was the first model on the market), the belief that Honeycomb was rough around the edges despite some innovative features, an ad campaign aimed more at gadget lovers than consumers, and the lack of Android apps specifically created for use with Honeycomb or on a tablet.
Clearly, while Honeycomb has some appealing features -- a home screen widgets, live preview of apps and a well-designed notification system that Apple is imitating in iOS 5 -- Android tablets have yet to gain anything close to the critical mass of the iPad.
Then there's RIM's PlayBook tablet. It has the BlackBerry brand that appeals to the corporate world, impressive hardware specs and a compelling Web experience that includes Flash. (As with many mobile devices, though, Flash doesn't exactly shine on the PlayBook.)
But, as reviewers have noted, the PlayBook OS seems unfinished and there are few apps for it. The PlayBook doesn't even ship with a standard set of business tools like email and calendaring apps. Yes, some of these features, along with access to corporate data, become available when the PlayBook is tethered to a BlackBerry. But that kind of setup is clunky at best.
Not surprisingly, RIM is courting Android developers by allowing Android apps to be modified to run on the device without being completely rewritten. Whether that will help bolster sagging PlayBook sales is unclear.
Of course, RIM has its own share of problems unrelated to the PlayBook. Earlier this month, it announced job cuts, delays in product shipments and a reduced earnings forecast.
Final TouchPad thoughts
Whatever its ultimate ambition, HP is taking webOS very seriously. And the company is already looking ahead at larger enterprise needs such as client management, ease of provisioning and deployment, and maintenance processes. This bodes well on all fronts. If HP is that forward-thinking, it stands to reason that a lot of enterprise needs will be met in the initial webOS 3 release that ships on the TouchPad.
Combine that with an OS that offers a lot of attractive features in its own right and a device that could easily be mistaken for an iPad, and you get a tablet with a lot of market potential. If HP does enterprise features well, this could give IT departments a strong case for choosing the TouchPad as an iPad alternative.
In any case, with HP showing such obvious ambitions and an apparent commitment to ship the TouchPad as a product that is fully polished on the day it launches, the TouchPad has the potential to blow Android tablets and the PlayBook out of the water. And maybe, just maybe, it will offer Apple some real competition.
Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).
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