FRAMINGHAM 9 FEBRUARY - Hewlett-Packard launched a slick-looking tablet computer on Wednesday based on a new release of its webOS, but the question many are now asking is, has HP done enough to steal some business from Apple's trailblazing iPad?
HP launched the HP TouchPad at an event for press and analyst in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. It also unveiled two smartphones based on the same software: the Veer, a mini-smartphone about the height of a credit card, and the Pre3, a full-fledged smartphone aimed at business users.
Physically, the 10-in. TouchPad certainly looks like the iPad, though it's hard to imagine a completely original design for a touchscreen tablet. But what HP hopes will set it apart is the software, in particular the tight integration it says it can offer among devices running webOS.
"Synergy is our central idea," said Jon Rubinstein, the former Palm CEO who joined HP when it bought Palm last year. "Because when we bring different things together -- whether it's different applications, different software, different devices, even different companies -- and get them to work in sync, we achieve a powerful result that's much greater than the sum of its parts."
That's a tough way to differentiate yourself against Apple, which is known for the tight integration among its own products: Plug an iPhone into your Macbook, and it syncs at the click of a button. Download music to a Mac from iTunes, and it rolls effortlessly to your iPod the next time you plug it in.
But HP claims to have a good integration story of its own. For a start, it says it will build a wider universe of webOS devices. In addition to the tablet and smartphones, webOS will provide the technology for its Web-connected printers, and as Todd Bradley, head of HP's Personal Systems Group, revealed Wednesday, it will find its way eventually into HP PCs, though details won't come until later in the year.
That synergy, then, can take several forms. As HP showed Wednesday, it has made it easy for TouchPad users (and probably webOS smartphone users as well) to print directly to an HP Web-connected printer, from inside a photo or e-mail application, for example. HP says this will work with most of its printers released in the past few years.
WebOS also has a novel "touch to share" capability, which lets a user physically tap a smartphone against a TouchPad to share URLs between the devices. In the example shown on Wednesday, if a person looks up information about a restaurant at home, then wants to take that information out of the house, they can tap their phone on their TouchPad, and in a few seconds the same URL opens up on the smartphone automatically.
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