HP Exec Says Tablet Battle A Marathon, Not A Sprint

"We’re going to fight everybody. This is not an Apple and HP scenario," Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said Wednesday at HP's Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas.

In addition to Apple, Bradley mentioned Samsung, Dell and Lenovo as tablet competitors that HP sees on its radar. "The list is long, but they should be more worried about how they're going to compete with HP," he said.

HP is talking to channel partners this week about the investments it's making to train partners in WebOS development and mobility. HP sees its channel as a key differentiator, and earlier this week Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president of HP's Americas Solution Partners Organization, called out Apple for its lack of channel focus.

HP's WebOS message includes a more frank assessment of HP's reasons for spending $1.2 billion to acquire Palm than the company has previously offered. "WebOS is an opportunity to leapfrog the traditional Wintel ecosystem," Bradley said. More than just an operating system, WebOS is a strategic asset that HP plans to use to build an ecosystem around consumers, small business and enterprises, he added.

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It's a different tone than HP struck at last year's APC, when Microsoft and Windows 7 were still prominent in HP's tablet plans. This year, there has been nary a public mention of Microsoft or the Windows 7 powered Slate 500 tablet, which was dogged by shortages after HP launched it last October and now appears to be fading into the mists of mobile device obscurity.

HP sees WebOS as a key building block for its cloud computing strategy. Bradley noted that HP has traditionally been strong when it comes to content creation, and HP sees WebOS enabling "a new class of product and capabilities for how to consume content."

HP's TouchPad is slated to hit the market sometime this summer, followed by the Pre3 and Veer smartphones, and there has been chatter that a Wi-Fi-only TouchPad could arrive as early as June. Bradley said WebOS products will offer "unique features and functions" like touch to share, true multitasking, and Synergy, a single sign-on-type feature for mobile devices.

Most important, Bradley said, will be TouchPad's always-on connectivity. "You will see a product that delivers a software experience that was created from Jon (Rubinstein, head of HP's mobile devices business)'s vision to always be on the Internet. It's a continual connection to content that's important to you," he said.

As impressive as the TouchPad may be, HP faces a tough uphill climb with WebOS, not only in terms of getting developer partners on board but also because of the entrenched nature of the competition. HP executives at APC, to their credit, have acknowledged that it'll probably take some time for the WebOS vision to start having an impact in the marketplace.

Bradley estimated that 50 million tablets will be sold this year in the overall market, compared to 400 million PCs, suggesting that it's still early days and HP has time to catch up to tablet market leaders.

"I'm telling you, this is not the end of the sprint, but the beginning of a marathon," he said.