iPad Killer? We Can't Even get an iPad Challenger

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HP has conceded the tablet war before it even engaged in battle by terminating the HP Slate project. Since Steve Ballmer unveiled the HP Slate prototype at CES--an attempt to steal the thunder from the impending announcement of the Apple iPad--the Slate has been the poster child and champion for everything the iPad isn't.

HP recently engaged in a pseudo marketing campaign for the Slate--launching videos displaying its apparently formidable capabilities. A leaked HP document exposed a line-by-line comparison of the specs and features of the Slate vs. the iPad. On paper, it appeared to pose a reasonable challenge--especially for users who want or need more complete PC performance.

In retrospect, though, the comparison was not significantly different than what you might expect comparing the iPad against any Windows-based netbook--or at least touchscreen-enabled netbook. The primary difference is that the Slate is a tablet...sort of.

An early review of an HP Slate prototype revealed what many already suspected--the Slate is more like a slow, handicapped PC forced into a flat-panel form factor than a tablet device. Essentially, it is in fact a touchscreen netbook without a keyboard.

There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. Windows XP, and now Windows 7-based netbooks seem to perform admirably enough in most cases. They certainly provide a more comparable experience to full-size desktop or notebook PC's, including USB ports, Adobe Flash compatibility, and the ability to install and use the vast library of software you are already familiar with and rely on every day.

Perhaps, though, that is ultimately why HP has terminated the Slate. Maybe HP realized what the HP-faithful and Windows loyalists still deny--the iPad represents a fundamental shift in mobile computing that defies direct comparison with PC's or virtually any other platform for that matter.

The iPad tablet is a new class of device; a device built on a mobile OS foundation and intended for a different audience than a Windows-based netbook.

To be clear--I love Windows 7. I have used Windows 7 since before the beta was even available to the general public and I make my living on a Windows 7-based notebook. I can't say enough good things about Windows 7, and I don't plan on giving up Windows 7 any time soon.

That said, I also love my iPad, and I have made the transition to relying primarily on the iPad as my mobile computing device when I am out and about. It is smaller, thinner, lighter, often faster, and can still perform about 90 percent of the same tasks as my Windows 7 notebook, and 99 percent of what I need while I am away from my desk.

The timing of the death of the Slate seems serendipitous. HP invests $1.2 billion to purchase Palm--maker of the powerful and capable, yet only marginally successful, WebOS mobile operating system, then decides to halt development of the Slate.

HP appears to be rendering a tacit admission that the Windows 7-based tablet is not a compelling device, and moving toward developing a more comparable "iPad killer" based on the WebOS platform. That is pure speculation at this point, but its speculation I am willing to put out there because it just makes sense.

Whether competing tablet devices are built on WebOS, or Android, or perhaps even the upcoming Windows Phone 7 OS, it is tablet devices built on mobile OS platforms and that embrace the tablet concept rather than trying to be a computer shoved into a tablet that will ultimately compete with the iPad.

Of course, you could build a tablet based on a mobile OS and still provide a camera, or dual cameras, and Adobe Flash support, and perhaps even a USB port or SD memory card capabilities. There is certainly still room for HP and others to include features that can set their tablet devices apart from the iPad.

With the death of the HP Slate, and the announced termination of the anticipated dual-screen Courier tablet from Microsoft, though, we are left with a void in the "iPad killer" arena, and Apple faces little competition for the foreseeable future.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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