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Analysts lukewarm on HP Touchpad chances for success

HP has strong UI and retail relationships in its favor, but Apple iPad still the tablet standard

By , Network World
June 30, 2011 01:49 PM ET

Network World - Industry analysts are so-so about prospects for HP's TouchPad tablet, which goes on sale Friday. The temper and tone of their conclusions reflect many of the product reviews appearing today, in which the TouchPad often suffers in comparison to the industry-leading Apple iPad.

On paper, TouchPad has many of the features and capabilities of rival tablets, including those based on Google's Android operating systems. The pricing is comparable, $500 for the 16GB model and $600 for the 32GB model. Above this, the HP device features the innovative webOS firmware and user interface, acquired with the $1.2 billion buyout of Palm, which was completed a year ago almost to the day.

HP also has extensive relationships with retailer chains through which it will be able reach consumers, including Amazon, BestBuy, Radio Shack and Wal-Mart.

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But analysts aren't convinced that these add up to a home run for TouchPad, or even a triple.

"Apple has such as big lead and Android has so many manufacturers at so many price points, that HP is squeezed between the high price/high functionality of the iPad and the variety and expected lower price points of Android," says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile at Gartner. "The bugs listed by Walt Mossberg today [in his Wall Street Journal review] are what many saw in early RIM Playbooks as well. Quality can permanently kill a product's chances. His report is very serious."

Some reviewers said that they were told by HP that the company is aware of the bugs and has either already fixed some of them or will do so in an webOS firmware update that will be out "soon."

"HP is coming to the fight with slick, but thick and heavy, hardware," says Avi Greengarten, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, a research firm that specializes in tactical competitive analysis for companies. He also just published a hands-on review of TouchPad. "The [webOS] user interface is spectacular, but buggy. It, too, lacks a critical mass of tablet apps. If HP can iron out the bugs, it can make a play for consumers seeking a tablet for personal productivity, and then hope to attract more developers to the platform."

The TouchPad's operating system is webOS 3.0, originally created by Palm for its Palm Pre smartphone introduced in June 2009. The OS features an innovative and distinctive user interface, which won good reviews both on the smartphone and now on the tablet. Applications are written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and the Palm/HP development tools have also gotten good reviews. Developers said webOS lived up to its claims

WebOS "looks very competitive," agrees Mykola Golovko, consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor International, a global market research company. But on the downside, he notes that iPad 2 is lighter, thinner, has superior battery performance (though TouchPad is comparable or better to many Android rivals), and a wealth of tablet-specific applications (over 90,000 compared to the TouchPad's starting slate of about 300).

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