HP Partners Hoping webOS Will Fuel Tablet Success

HP has already brought one unimpressive Windows 7 tablet to market, but there are reasons to believe that HP will get it right this time around with its forthcoming wave of webOS tablets.

For starters, it's always a good sign when a new CEO takes special interest in a product he or she had nothing to do with acquiring. At the D: Dive Into Mobile conference in San Francisco last week, Jon Rubinstein, former Palm CEO and current head of HP's mobile devices business unit, said CEO Leo Apotheker is "really jazzed about having webOS."

Tablets running webOS have been on HP's agenda since acquiring Palm back in April. After the deal was revealed, Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said one of HP's main goals with webOS would be to leverage Palm's large developer base and its base of more than 2,000 apps.

HP also see webOS as a platform for delivering cloud-based services. In October, Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Personal Systems Group, Americas, said HP sees webOS as one of the pillars of its cloud computing strategy.

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"Storage is going to be in the cloud, and content is going be in the cloud. Everything with a digital heartbeat is going to be connected, and the way we're going to connect it all together is webOS," DeWitt said at an industry event in San Francisco.

Buying Palm was necessary move on HP's part given the head start that Apple and Google have achieved in the smartphone and tablet space. But despite the lead time that will have elapsed between the Palm acquisition and webOS tablets hitting the market, Rick Chernick, president of Camera Corner/Connecting Point, a Green Bay, Wis.-based solution provider, believes webOS tablets will be viable competitors to the iPad.

"Considering the time HP has had to circle the wagons and figure out where they want to go, and the R&D they're putting behind this, it would be very surprising if they were to come out with something that's subpar," Chernick said.

One key to the success of webOS tablets will be to have apps available for various industry verticals on day one, according to Chernick, who's seeing particularly strong demand for apps in the health-care and financial sectors.

"As resellers, we need to take those tablets and have specific and useful apps available so that customers can quickly realize a return on their investment," Chernick said.

Next: How The Windows 7 HP Slate 500 Has Fared

Customers haven't yet warmed to the Slate 500, a Windows 7 based tablet that's priced at $800 and aimed mainly at business users.

HP itself appears to have hedged its bets with the Slate 500, reportedly limiting production to 5,000 units and subsequently boasting of "extraordinary demand" for the Slate 500 once the product sold out. The Slate 500 may yet achieve booming sales, but it would be difficult to call its initial foray into Windows 7 tablets a success at this point.

But while webOS will give HP another shot at breaking into the tablet market, Palm wasn't exactly lighting up the smartphone industry with the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi. HP will have to show that it's capable of taking a promising but unproven mobile OS and turning it into something that will draw developers' and customers' attention away from iOS and Android.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Keith Bachman, who this week predicted that webOS tablets will arrive in March, doesn't see webOS as a game changer, but merely a "niche market", as reported by Forbes.

For a company of HP's size, achieving niche market status seems a laughably modest goal, but it might just be enough to get the boulder rolling and put HP within striking distance of the mobile industry hotshots.