Can HP Surpass Apple With New Tablet, Smartphones?

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HP is going head-to-head in the digital electronics market with Apple via its new webOS-powered tablet PC and with a pair of webOS-powered smartphones, but how well HP can do against Apple still depends a lot on the timing and pricing of its new devices.

HP on Wednesday unveiled its new HP TouchPad tablet PC along with business-focused and consumer-focused smartphones, and in the process became one of the few IT vendors to introduce personal digital electronics based on its own hardware and operating system.

That operating system, webOS, was the centerpiece of HP's acquisition last year of struggling smartphone vendor Palm.

With webOS, HP now competes directly with Apple's iPad and iPhone devices based on that company's iOS operating system, as well as multiple smartphones and a small but growing number of tablet PCs based on Google's Android operating system.

The HP TouchPad tablet PC features a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 9.7-inch diagonal capacitive multitouch display, Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, Adobe Flash Player support, either 16 GBs or 32 GBs of internal storage, and a single front-facing camera.

For business users, HP unveiled the HP Pre3 smartphone featuring a 3.6-inch touchscreen, a 1.4-GHz processor, a full slideout keyboard, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, Adobe Flash support, and a business software suite. The HP Pre3 can create a mobile hotspot by acting as a mobile Wi-Fi router to connect to up to five Wi-Fi devices. It also has a "touch-to-share" feature which allows sharing of Web addresses between the Pre3 and the HP TouchPad by just tapping the phone on the tablet PC.

For consumers, HP unveiled miniature HP Veer smartphone featuring a slide-out keyboard, an 800MHz processor, 8 GB of internal storage, Adobe Flash support, Wi-Fi support, and a 5-megapixel camera.

How HP will fare in its new role of Apple digital electronic wannabe depends on a number of questions which have yet to be answered.

For instance, HP's new devices will only come to market starting this spring, and the company has not yet unveiled which telecom carriers will partner offer them.

Pricing will also be an issue. HP is keeping silent about the expected prices for the new devices for now which is understandable because they won't be available for a couple of months.

However, price will be a big determiner of the success of the HP TouchPad. Industry observers are generally down on the upcoming Motorola Xoom dual-core, 10.1-inch tablet PC because of reports that it will be priced for about $800 when it becomes available though such venues as Verizon and Best Buy later this month.

HP is also facing stiff competition, both real and potential, from a number of vendors. In addition to Apple and Motorola, other tablet PC vendors include Dell, RIM, LG, Viewsonic, and a host of smaller players.

Next: Plusses And Minuses Vs. The Apple iPad

HP has yet to prove it can compete in the personal electronics market. The company's last successful tablet-sized computer was the Compaq iPaq, which some time ago morphed into a series of smartphones and PDAs. HP last year was expected to unveil a tablet PC, and even leaked a video trailer featuring it, but that device was quietly canceled.

HP is not on the list of Top 10 mobile device manufacturers, and neither its webOS nor the Palm OS from which webOS was developed show up on the list of Top 10 smartphone sales by operating system, according to a new report released Wednesday by Gartner.

At any rate, it is Apple's iPad which sets the bar against which all other tablet PCs are compared.

However, that bar is high not just because of the features of the iPad, but also because of Apple's marketing machine.

For instance, as analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group wrote on Wednesday, a lot of noise stems from availability of iPad apps from Apple's App Store. However, Enderle wrote, the average user seems to only purchase five apps, which suggests that a newcomer to the market can succeed without the legions of iPad app developers.

Furthermore, iPad performance is limited by its single-core processor. However, Enderle wrote, the next generation of Apple iPad is rumored to be based, like the HP TouchPad, on a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, as well as front and back cameras.

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