Can HP's webOS and TouchPad slow down the iPad?

Android tablets and RIM's PlayBook haven't put much of a dent in Apple's tablet success -- yet

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Like Android, webOS offers a global search box that is always accessible in card view, making it easy to search for email messages, contacts, Web pages or apps. Apple offers something similar with a search screen attached to the iOS home screen, but it's not quite as ubiquitous and accessible.

WebOS relies on cloud-based syncing and backup to HP's servers using a profile that's created the first time you activate a webOS device. This is a huge benefit over Android's cloud-sync-without-backup approach and Apple's sync-and-backup-via-iTunes mechanism -- though that will finally change for iOS users once iOS 5 is out this fall. At the moment, the webOS method may well be the most worry-free option on the market. The same profile is used for accessing the webOS App Catalog and downloading apps.

One downside, particularly on unlocked Pre2 handsets, is that you must create a profile on activation -- and the initial creation must be done over a carrier's network, not via Wi-Fi. Hopefully, HP will make immediate profile creation optional or at least allow configuration of basic device settings during the first use process.

Other webOS pluses

WebOS has probably the best notification system among smartphone platforms at the moment. It certainly outpaces Apple's dated notification system (which stops whatever you're doing until you view or ignore whatever app sent the notification -- and if you ignore a notification, it simply disappears never to be seen again). It's also a slight step up from Android's notification bar in overall look and feel (though it is functionally similar). Again, iOS 5 will help Apple catch up when it's released.

Like the iPhone, webOS handsets have the benefit of being largely standardized and produced by the same company that develops the operating system. This offers tighter integration and removes the issues of fragmentation that have emerged with Android.

It also allows HP to control the system update process more tightly than has been possible with Android's update process, where manufacturers and carriers both vet each update, resulting in delays; or with Windows Phone 7 (WP7), which had update delays caused by carriers.

WebOS, like Android and WP7, is also designed to aggregate content from a variety of sources, including personal email accounts, common Web-based services like Gmail, social networks including Facebook and LinkedIn, and Microsoft Exchange. The approach, dubbed Synergy, lets users view content from all sources in one place. Conversations that span multiple services -- like email, text messages and Facebook -- can be viewed as a single thread regardless of the service. That's a nice plus over some mobile platforms, particularly Apple's current setup.

Finally, webOS relies largely on Web technologies to power its apps. This means that any mobile Web developer can easily get up to speed on the development environment (an approach Microsoft is copying with its new Windows 8 interface and apps). This offers tremendous potential for app development, though the small user base hasn't yet attracted the number of developers that iOS and Android have.

At the Digital Experience event in New York, Keith Shaw chats with HP about its new TouchPad tablet, which uses the WebOS operating system. The $499 tablet ships on July 1, 2011.

The new TouchPad

The TouchPad weighs 1.6 pounds and sports a 9.7-in. screen that's just slightly smaller than the one in the iPad. It has a front-facing camera and internal speakers, and it runs on a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon "dual-CPU" processor. In overall form factor, it's very similar to Apple's tablet. And it will ship with webOS 3 -- a release optimized for the tablet, à la Honeycomb -- which will have all of the features that webOS 2.x offers, plus a few more.

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