Rumors of a soon-to-be WebOS iPad competitor peaked last week when it was confirmed that Hewlett Packard (which purchased WebOS-creator Palm in April for $1.2 billion) had filed a trademark application for the name "PalmPad."
HP has been in development of an iPad competitor for some time now - in fact, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the joint MSFT-HP project, called "Slate," in January 2010. Rumors had the Slate killed, but it was resurrected recently by HP, although now only geared towards enterprise users, losing its once consumer oriented focus.
With Windows 7 out of the consumer tablet picture, HP has naturally shifted its gaze to the newest darling in the catalog, Palm's WebOS operating system. This multitasking powerhouse is ideally suited for tablet use. Utilizing multitouch technologies, unobtrusive alerts and a powerful e-mail client, this rumored "PalmPad" could finally be the device that gives the folks at Apple a run for their money.
One problem with porting WebOS from phones to tablets is text input. As of now, the only two devices running the operating system are the Pre and Pixi variants, both sporting physical QWERTY keyboards. WebOS does not have any sort of virtual on-screen keyboard, leaving some to wonder how it will handle text input. While Palm simply adding a 'soft keyboard' is the most likely scenario, speculation surrounding a pen interface (remember Palm's graffiti?) or even a physical keyboard are other possibilities.
So what will the new HP "PalmPad" look like - if indeed HP is able to create a market-ready product? Well, it will probably look a lot like the originally planned Windows 7 "Slate":
• 8.9-inch screen
• Touchscreen with stylus pen interface that lets you write or draw on screen
• Front-facing webcam, plus a still cam for taking pictures
• Physical keyboard
• Conventional SIM card tray
• USB 2.0 port
• Support for Adobe Flash
However, unless HP has had time to update its hardware after the cancelled MSFT project, a Slate-like PalmPad would unfortunately be saddled with these physical limitations:
• A five-hour battery life, as opposed to iPad's 10
• Same weight as iPad, but slightly smaller display
• Less connectivity options
And another big drawback to a WebOS version of the iPad is that it most likely won't have many apps available. Palm was never very developer-friendly in the first place, and after the HP purchase, WebOS basically went on hiatus. Because it will have the fewest number of apps - only 2,000 currently, as compared to other platforms - the PalmPad could be a lot less fun to use - at least in the short-term. Officials at HP are aware of the problem, but the big question will be whether or not they'll be able to convince programmers to commit more time to a project that has already been such a disappointment.
Regardless of its incarnation, expect to see HP's WebOS-based tablet out in October--according to predictions from the company this spring. It will be interesting to see the final version HP comes up with, as well as how they plan to market it. Will the PalmPad be the opening salvo against Apple's iPad? Or will HP opt instead to beat Apple to the enterprise market?
Either way, the tablet wars have started!
Jonathan Rettinger is owner/editor-in-chief of TechnoBuffalo.com.