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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A couple of existing webOS features have been expanded in the move from smartphone to tablet. HP kept the same card-style interface and all its advantages while making use of the tablet's added screen real estate. The focus is still on apps displayed as cards, offering an uncluttered interface, but there's more preview capability. HP limits the view of cards onscreen at any one time rather than overwhelming users with too many details or live previews.

Similarly, the notification system benefits from extra space, even though it doesn't offer much in the way of added functionality. On tablets, the webOS and Android notification systems are very similar (as is the notification system in Apple's upcoming iOS 5).

Like other iPad competitors, the TouchPad will support Flash and will offer hardware acceleration of Flash content and all Web rendering. It's an advantage over the iPad, but the real question is whether the acceleration will be enough to overcome the general inadequacy of Flash on mobile devices.

The TouchPad will include a touch-to-share capability with other webOS devices. This allows a user to send and receive text or MMS messages and to place calls from the TouchPad even in Wi-Fi-only models. (The first models will be Wi-Fi only; models that run on 3G or 4G phone networks are expected to follow.)

The touch-to-share capability will also allow users to easily share URLs between the TouchPad and other webOS devices, and it will probably be expanded to support sharing of other types of content. It isn't clear whether this feature will extend to existing webOS handsets like the Veer or Pre2 or be specific to the Pre3 and later devices.

Printing has largely been a challenge for tablets and other mobile devices. Apple offers AirPrint for iOS, but only for a limited number of printer models (ironically, all from HP). Third-party solutions like the outstanding Printopia for Mac OS X can fill the gap for many users, but they may not be appropriate in workplace settings because they require a computer to serve as a print server for the iPad.

On the other hand, it's no surprise that the HP TouchPad will offer seamless printing capabilities, at least to HP's printers. This may not be a big selling point for all users, but it should be extremely attractive to business customers.

Pricing and branding

The TouchPad's pricing will mirror Apple's 16GB and 32GB Wi-Fi-only iPads at $499 and $599, respectively. Mirroring the iPad's form factor and price points allows HP to make a true head-to-head comparison with Apple's tablet. The price point also matches those of many 10-in. Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Toshiba Thrive and the Motorola Xoom -- though the Xoom doesn't offer a 16GB option -- and the 7-in. PlayBook by BlackBerry maker RIM.

A final advantage for the TouchPad should be brand awareness. HP is a trusted, well-known brand, particularly in business and enterprise circles. That could give the TouchPad a boost, particularly if HP builds mobile device management into the webOS 3 as well as or better than Apple did in iOS 4.

Many IT managers are likely to see the HP brand, its enterprise-friendly solutions road map and familiar enterprise sales teams as a big advantage over Apple's iPad or any Android tablets. Apple is building more enterprise support into its products, but still doesn't reach out to enterprises the way other IT vendors do.

Brand awareness is, of course, one of the big advantages the BlackBerry PlayBook has, though it's undercut by the device's limitations. It's also one advantage that the Android-powered Cisco Cius will have when it ships.

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