HP seeks PalmPad trademark; is a WebOS-based iPad killer on the way?

HP has said it wants a WebOS tablet; trademark application shows the movement is in earnest

Hewlett-Packard Co. is seeking to trademark the name "PalmPad" for computer hardware and mobile devices, providing a solid indication that a tablet computer borne of HP's purchase of Palm and its WebOS operating system is under development.

HP could be preparing a tablet designed primarily to compete with Apple Inc.'s iPad, and could possibly put it on sale by year's end, industry analysts and bloggers said. HP didn't comment. However, a recent trademark application that HP submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office speaks for itself, according to industry experts. Trademark applications are usually tantamount to receiving a trademark, unless the same trademark is found to be in use by another party, noted Jack Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates LLC.

Gold said HP is expected to build a WebOS tablet, using the operating system that's in the Palm Pre and Pixi smartphones, and the trademark filing gives more credence to that idea. "It's not far-fetched to think that a variant of WebOS is ready for a tablet," he said.

Palm was rumored to have been developing a tablet device before HP announced plans to purchase ailing Palm for $1.2 billion on April 28, Gold said.

When HP finalized its purchase of Palm on July 1, it confirmed plans to produce a WebOS tablet, as well as smartphones and netbooks, but it did not announce a timetable for doing so.

HP had shown a tablet called the Slate at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but the Slate ran on Windows 7. Some blogs have reported that HP dropped Windows 7 from its tablet plans, but HP has not publicly stated whether Windows has been dropped entirely.

The significance of the trademark filing is that WebOS is likely to appear in an HP tablet sooner rather than later. The tablet is expected to compete directly with the iPad and will include touchscreen capabilities and other features, according to Gold and others.

There is a chance that HP is merging Palm's WebOS with technology that HP already demonstrated in the Slate, Gold said.

A big distinction is that the Slate prototype had run on Windows with an Atom processor, while the Palm smartphones using WebOS were built with ARM-based processors, Gold said. Moving to WebOS could mean that HP has decided to move to ARM processors in the tablet -- a move that would require HP to either rationalize the two designs or just stick with ARM.

If HP is rationalizing the designs, that could take time, Gold said. "Can HP put out a device quickly that will [have] high enough performance [in the processor] to compete with iPad? That's the $64,000 question."

Given the need to move to market fast to compete with the iPad's fantastic success, Gold said it's his guess that HP will put a PalmPad on sale within one or two quarters, and before the end of the year.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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