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Hewlett Packard is cranking up its marketing machine for the Slate 500, a Windows 7 tablet PC that faces a murky future as HP prepares to launch its WebOS TouchPad tablet this summer.
In a promotional e-mail for the Slate 500 that went out this week, HP's sales pitch to would-be customers goes like this: "Do you have yours yet? No? Why Not?" It's an ironic approach given that HP ran into Slate 500 supply problems last November that delayed shipments for six weeks. Some customers posting recently to HP's product support forums claim to have waited several months for theirs to arrive.
HP didn't respond to a request for comment on whether the Slate 500 e-mail represents a renewed push to drum up interest in the product. HP's Web site currently shows an April 27 ship date for the Slate 500, so the company appears to have at least dealt with the supply shortage.
The Slate 500, which comes with a 1.86-GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor and 8.9-inch, LED-backlit display, debuted at CES 2010 when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off a prototype in his keynote. But a few months later, HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion and set out in a new mobile direction with WebOS. When the Slate 500 hit the market in October, its $799 price tag raised eyebrows, and not in a good way.
Since the Palm deal, HP executives have insisted that Windows 7 would continue to play a role in HP's tablet plans, but the fact that HP didn't mention the Slate 500 at its Americas Partner Conference last month makes those claims ring hollow.
Meanwhile, HP spent a ton of time at APC talking about and showing off the forthcoming TouchPad WebOS tablet. Gurpreet Kaur, an analyst at Gap Intelligence, a San Diego-based research firm that follows HP, sees the Slate 500 as a measure on HP's part intended to help Microsoft save face. "Windows 7 is not meant for tablets. The touch capabilities are bad and battery life is short," she said.
Microsoft is reportedly working to make the next version of Windows tablet friendly, but that release isn't expected until next year at the earliest. In the meantime, other vendors are continuing to roll out Windows 7 tablets. Asus began shipping its Eee Slate EP121 tablet in February, and Acer on Tuesday launched the Windows 7 version of its Iconia tablet. Dell, meanwhile, is reportedly planning to release a Windows 7 tablet this fall.
At this stage, OEMs are moving forward with Windows 7 tablets but appear to be doing so with a minimum of fanfare, Kaur said. "Windows 7 tablets will be low-key affairs with distribution limited to IT channels and with a B2B selling focus," she said.
It's unlikely that Windows 7 tablets are going to give Apple and Google much of a challenge in the tablet space, but some Microsoft partners are still confident that devices like the Slate 500 will find their niche.
Next: Who’s Going To Buy Windows 7 Tablets?