Hewlett-Packard is entering a crowded, bustling market with its WebOS TouchPad, but HP believes it can offer a tablet user experience that's unique from the iPad and its hordes of clones.
HP's $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm last April gave the company an instant presence in the mobile space, but the primary motivation was to eventually integrate WebOS across mobile devices and various other HP products, Grant Duke, WebOS specialist at HP, said Tuesday in a presentation at solution provider Camera Corner/Connecting Point's Technology Expo 2011 in Green Bay, Wisc.
"There are a lot of mobile devices out there, and many more coming. What none of them do is talk to each other," Duke said. "They talk to the Web but they don’t talk to each other, and WebOS provides the background for that to happen."
When HP launches the Pre3 and TouchPad sometime this summer, users will be able to share URL-based content between devices by touching them together. For customers that buy a Pre3 and a TouchPad, if a text message or phone call comes in while the phone is charging, it will be routed automatically to the tablet, Duke explained.
While the TouchPad has many of the same features as the iPad, HP is positioning it as a device that’s suitable for both business and personal use. WebOS supports up to 16 Microsoft Exchange accounts on a single device and uses Quickoffice for compatibility with Microsoft Office docs, Duke said. Support for Citrix Receiver and IPSEC/Cisco AnyConnect VPN is also part of the package.
HP has designed notifications and alerts in WebOS to be unobtrusive, which is important for a device that people are going to be using to get work done. Alerts tend to take over the user experience, but in WebOS, when a text message comes in, it will display at the top of the screen on the TouchPad, and the bottom on the Pre3, with the work area remaining uncluttered, Duke said.
The TouchPad's virtual keyboard is also adjustable between small, medium and large to account for varying finger sizes, he said.
At launch, the TouchPad will come pre-loaded with print drivers for every HP printer model released since 2006. It will also be compatible with HP's ePrint service, which prints to certain HP printers by sending an email to their email address, Duke said. "We designed WebOS to scale to multiple screen sizes. It's always going to work the same way no matter what device we put it into," he said.
HP is coming on strong in mobile applications, currently boasting more than 7,000 WebOS apps on its App Catalog. That pales in comparison with Apple and Android, but Duke said the essential mobile applications will be available to TouchPad customers at launch. "TouchPad has all the apps that most customers use most of the time," he said.
HP still faces an uphill climb, however. Many HP partners are interested in WebOS but are waiting to see what kind of demand materializes around the TouchPad before they invest in mobile application development.
In 2012, HP will ship WebOS on every PC, giving developers access to a user base of around 60 million, Duke said. HP hasn't said much about how this would enhance the customer experience, but Duke said it's not something Microsoft needs to be worried about. "This isn't about replacing Windows on the desktop," he said."WebOS will augment Windows and enable users to interact with their mobile devices through their PCs."
TouchPad will be Wi-Fi-only at launch, with cellular connectivity through carriers to follow at some undefined point in the future. During a Q&A, Duke was asked if HP would partner with multiple carriers for the TouchPad and responded that this is "probably the vision."
HP's WebOS TouchPad will be available "this summer" and pricing is to be announced.