HP TouchPad Preview: What It Does, and What It Needs To Do

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PC Magazine has a great article with embedded video on HP's announcement for it's new tablet to compete with the iPad:  The HP TouchPad.  It will be using HP's (formerly Palm's) WebOS platform, and from the demos I've seen from the launch, it looks interesting. 

From a basic view, it's pretty much like the iPad.  The size, resolution, and even the basic look just screams iPad.  They really took a queue from iPad and understand what the tablet should be.  When working in an app, the app takes over the screen.  They even go so far as to have multiple screens of apps instead of app icons to select the app you want to use now.  Orientation is really the same, and I don't see anything that really screams unique in this area. 

What it does have that the iPad doesn't is a forward facing camera, and a dual core processor.  The software also communicates wirelessly with the HP Pre3 using a proximity sensor to transfer data between the two.  That's pretty cool, and I think it would be a neat feature for any smart phone/tablet combination.  Why?  Because it creates a level of cooperation between the two that enhances the experience, and could create immediate need to purchase both for the sake of that tech.  Of course, if rumors are true, the same could be available in the next iPad and iPhone using RFID (much better then using the phone as a credit card that way).  What else does it do?  Well, it runs Flash, but as I have mentioned before, the power requirements to run Flash make it a non-starter for me in a mobile platform. 

So what is it lacking?  Apps.  The WebOS platform, while starting out really promising in 2009, has always struggled in this area.  HP has touted some partners, but the list is still meager.  Though one way to expand app excitement was to introduce a WebOS platform for Windows, making it possible to run WebOS apps on your PC.  That would increase the install base significantly, though how it's going to be implemented remains a mystery.  My guess is it will exist as either a simple development platform, or better yet something like Apple's Dashboard.  Either way it would be of benefit for HP in the long run to have a wider app base than their current platform. 

As of now though, the TouchPad is still more or less in development.  It's not polished, much to the annoyance of Lance Ulanoff when he did the article, and that's a problem because it makes them look desperate.  It's very similar to Motorola's Xoom presentation, which was pretty much just videos of what it could do when finished at CES.  The difference?  HP didn't have an arbitrary date to get everything ready like Motorola did for CES:  this presentation was from HP on their own schedule.  Perhaps they should have waited until the device was done and ready to go. 

So, with the introduction of the TouchPad, the iPad has more competition.  What will this mean for Apple?  It means they will need to wow everyone with the next release of the iPad in order to stay on top.  Do I think that will be a problem?  No, because Apple has a knack for producing wow's at their presentations, even if the initial iPad presentation left many tech pundits feeling confused.  Personally, I think the tablet in general and the iPad in particular represent a fabulous move forward in the future of computing.  I can't wait to see how it all shakes out!