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HP Partners Prepare For webOS Tablets

HP's partners anticipate a quality offering from the IT giant in the booming tablet market, where Apple's iPad currently reigns.

Hewlett-Packard is preparing to roll out new tablets based on its webOS platform, acquired with its purchase of struggling phone manufacturer Palm in April.

Last month, HP's CTO for global gaming Rahul Sood said that HP plans to release several webOS-based products with a new form factor over the next year.

HP's partners expect webOS to be an important differentiator as HP goes up against Apple and Google in the fast-emerging market for tablet devices.

"People look for options. When [Former HP CEO] Mark Hurd originally completed the Palm acquisition, the first thing I said was, 'He's going to be putting webOS on the tablet to compete with the iPad.' I think it’s a better alternative than the Android OS, which is not that clean from a look and feel perspective in terms of user friendliness," said Bob Venero, President and CEO of Future Tech.

"We do expect webOS to have an impact," said Rich Chernick, CEO of Medford, Oregon-based Connecting Point Computer Centers." This is new technology and I'm eager to find out how it's going to function. I see what Apple has accomplished in such a short time. HP will have to compete somehow. They have to make it as beautiful and easy to run as the iPad. I'm excited to present this to the business community for healthcare, for a number of industries."

Next: How Will HP Tailor Its Tablets To Enterprise Software

One HP solution provider who has been working with prototype tablet PCs running webOS is pleased with what he's seen so far. HP uses the term "Slates" for its tablets.

"Our Denali health-care business has been a key part of our mobile to market strategy. We see the tablet and the HP Slate as a key part of our mobility solutions," said John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing at Denali Advanced Integration, a Redmond, Wash.-based HP partner. He added, "HP has sent Denali pre-production Slate units, and we are testing and engaging our customers in the process. The feedback is exceeding our expectations."

Although partners are eagerly awaiting the arrival of HP Slates, these devices have been slow to market. At CES in January, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off a prototype HP Slate running Windows 7, but since then neither company has offered specifics about when that product will be available. HP's acquisition of Palm caused speculation that it had abandoned its Windows 7 tablet plans, but in August HP confirmed its intention to offer both Windows 7 and webOS powered devices.

"You'll see us with a Microsoft product in the near future, and a WebOS-based product early next year," Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said in August during HP's Q3 earnings call.

As for why it's taking so long for HP to bring its Slate to market, Chernick said the delay should only add to the anticipation: "The delay in bringing the Slate to market suggests they're making several changes to make sure it's full of applications and ready to go. I can only wait and see, but I'm eager to find out how it's going to function."

Next: How Will HP Fare In A Crowded Tablet Market?

One potential problem for HP is that it's entering a market that may be on the verge of being too crowded. Google's Android OS and Apple's iOS have both proven to be successful in reviving the tablet category, but it's unclear if tablets running Windows 7 and webOS will be able to generate the same level of interest.

"The real question is whether the market will accept another player in this space," Venero said. "But there will be some success and growth involved in it, absolutely. HP didn't spend all that money on Palm just to throw it away."

Although Apple's iPad has been a hit with consumers, it has yet to carve out a niche in the business market. Tyler Dikman president and CEO of CoolTronics, a Tampa Fla.-based solution provider, sees this as an area of opportunity for HP.

"With Google coming out with their tablet soon, the way I see this impacting channel partners would be if they market this device as a corporate tablet," said Dikman. "Apple has no real share in the corporate space. Because of Apple's lack of focus on the business space, they will never win where HP is providing enterprise-level software and support."

Next: HP Sends Mixed Signals Over The Summer

In tackling this new market, HP's partners say the company has an advantage in terms of size and scalability.

"HP has the resources and the R&D clout to do anything," Convery said. "It's all part of their converged infrastructure. They've got the powerful tech teams and powerful marketing and products and services across their entire portfolio."

HP has trademarked the name "PalmPad" in order to challenge the popular Apple iPad with a webOS touchscreen device of its own.

In filing for the PalmPad trademark, HP said it was for "computers, computer hardware, computer software, computer peripherals, portable computers, handheld and mobile computers, PDAs, electronic notepads, mobile digital electronic devices."

Next: HP Sets Goals For Its Tablets

Though a specific product timeline is not yet available, HP has already publicly floated a figure representing the entire tablet market. Todd Bradley e valuated the market for tablets over the coming years at about $40 billion.

Bradley also confirmed HP's pursuit of the webOS strategy, citing the advantage of having a consistent interface between phones and tablets.

With so much riding on tablets, it looks as though HP has big expectations for webOS.

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