Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time testing out two new tablets that are now on the market. The first is the Samsung 10.1” Galaxy Tab and the second is the new Palm TouchPad. Up until these two tablets came out it was clear to me that Apple pretty much had the tablet market to themselves. And while I had also tested the 7 inch Galaxy Tab, the 7 inch Zoom and the 7 inch RIM PlayBook, I felt that the real competition for the iPad would only come when we had tablets with 9- 10 inch screens that rivaled the iPad’s design.
For a full week I carried all three of these tablets with me everywhere I went and used them each for all of the basic tasks I do daily on a tablet. All three have very good Web browsers although Flash works just like it does on a PC on the TouchPad. All three have good touch based user interfaces. And to some degree, they actually all looked the same when I laid them down on a table and the screen was turned off. As I have stated in previous articles, one major attraction of a tablet to me is that it is a highly portable screen that serves as a window to the Internet, applications and ultimately the cloud. Of course, once you pick them up you notice immediately that the iPad is the sleekest of the bunch and the new Palm Touchpad is the thickest of the three.
Much has been written about the iPad so I won’t spend any time on this elegant product that, at the moment, dominates the tablet market. And there are dozens of reviews out on the Galaxy Tab as well. And reviews for RIM’s Playbook are also plentiful. So for this article I would like to share some thoughts on HP’s Touchpad, the newest tablet on the market and I will focus on two pressing questions.
The first question I get asked often is whether the Palm Touchpad is competitive?
The simple answer is yes it is. We have worked with Web OS for many years and consider this the most stable mobile OS on the market next to Apple’s IOS. And although our familiarity with Web OS has mainly come through the Pre, using it on the tablet now was as easy as it was when I first got the iPad and used IOS on it the same way I had used it on the iPhone. In that sense, Palm Pre users will feel right at home with this tablet.
With that in mind, it is clear to me from a hardware and software OS standpoint, that this is a solid product and one that is more then competitive at these levels. However, this leads me to the second major question I get often.
Can HP/Palm be successful with the TouchPad coming to market this late and with very little software support from the 3rd party developers?
This is a harder question to answer and one that needs to focus on three key things that HP/Palm need to do to make it a market winner.
First, they have to step up their efforts with the third party community and drive them to create thousands of native apps for the TouchPad. When I used native Web OS apps on the TouchPad that are identical to ones that are on the iPad or Android platforms, they looked just as good and worked the same as the do on these other operating systems. And in some cases, thanks to the Touchpad’s UI and multitasking, some worked even better.
On the test unit I had, many of the 6500 Web OS apps available at launch were apps written for the 3.5 inch Pre screens and do not scale to the 9.7 inch screen on the Touchpad. And unlike Apple’s iPhone apps on the iPad, they don’t even have a 2X button to artificially make them scale to a full screen and just sit in a 3.5 inch window in the center of the TouchPad. Although these apps work, they clearly do not take advantage of this new screen real estate. However, there are 300 apps written for the Touchpad that do work in full screen mode. This to me is perhaps their greatest challenge given the fact that Apple has over 60,000 native apps for the iPad and counting and Android has bout 10,000 tablet apps and strong developers support for this platform.
Second, they are going to need to make sure their channel partners really know how to sell the Touchpad and can demonstrate the areas where it differentiates from the iPad and Android tablets. Unlike Apple, who has their stores to enhance the selling process of the iPad, HP has to lean on its hundreds of thousands retailers of all sizes to sell this new product for them. And I believe they will need to spend serious ad dollars over the next 18 months around the world if they want to make any dent in the iPad and Android Tablet market share that is growing by leaps and bounds.
But the third thing that they need to do is put a tight focus on tablet solutions for the enterprise. They need to deliver a seamless integration of the TouchPad with their current IT services and solutions programs. The market for tablets is very crowded in the consumer space and even if they get more apps and spend more ad dollars pushing people to the channel to buy the Touchpad, they have a lot of competition from Apple and Google there. On the other hand the enterprise market for tablets is in its infancy. Yes, Apple has made some impressive headway in enterprise but this is not their primary focus for the iPad. And Windows 8 for Tablets is still a year away and Android’s lack of major security software and enterprise apps has slowed down its adoption in the enterprise.
But HP pretty much owns the enterprise for PC’s, laptops and servers and with a major focus on integrating the Touchpad into their overall IT solutions program, HP could deliver a powerful tablet that enterprises could adopt in large numbers. I consider this a critical factor for the TouchPad’s ultimate success and all indications are that HP is going to key in on the enterprise with this new tablet of theirs as well as extend Web OS to PC platforms to give developers even more incentive to create apps for Web OS. HP has hinted that they will ship as many as 100 million Web OS devices yearly, of which 70-75 million will be integrated into their PC’s and tablets.
Given the strong lead Apple has in the tablet market and the inroads Android is making via its various licensees, HP will clearly have an uphill battle coming to the market this late with their new TouchPad. But I am very bullish on it’s the quality of its OS and even the Touchpad’s solid design. If they can get strong software support as well as make enterprise a key target for this tablet, then the TouchPad can clearly be competitive and could become a third solid tablet device that consumers and business users can choose from in the years ahead.