HP has finally announced his webOS-based tablet, the TouchPad. You can read a description here, and view some pictures. But Tony Wolverton's fine article says it may be too late for the TouchPad, which won't ship until summer.
I beg to differ.
New markets can take a long time to form. So far the tablet/slate market is mainly Apple, and a bunch of vendors (especially Motorola with its Xoom and RIM with its Playbook) who have announced products for late spring. Apple has had a magnificent start in this market and is likely to continue with a Version 2 of the iPad coming, perhaps in the 2nd quarter.
But there's plenty of room in the market, particularly in a market we don't understand very well. Let's keep a few critical points in mind.
- We don't understand the tablet market very well yet. Are tablets a replacement for laptops and netbooks or simply an alternative format for some users? So far, tablets are a small fraction of the overall portable PC market.
- Who are tablets intended for? Mainly consumers? Businessmen as consumers (individual buyers)? The corporate market?
- How will tablets reach their market? As individual purchases with downloaded software? Or as corporate buys, with specially developed software for business applications? Probably some of both, we'd guess. This is important, because the TouchPad, with its unique OS, will need its own developer ecosystem and applications and this is more important for the consumer market.
- How does a tablet relate to a smartphone? Is it a replacement? If it doesn't replace the phone function of the smartphone, does it mean users will eventually move toward a tablet plus a very small, mainly voice function, mobile phone?
- What about in emerging markets, where the smartphone is emerging as the main connection to the Internet?
To me, the tablet is all about a world in which we need a lightweight (physically) device which easily connects to the Cloud and provides a great user experience (interface, battery life, choice of applications, etc.). It also needs to provide an appropriate computing environment for its target users. That means some of us need keyboards that aren't on glass and all of us need easym, cheap connectivity for this to work.
A lot depends, of course, on pricing and features. So the new HP TouchPad seems to have new features, but we don't know much yet about pricing, telco partners, and connection costs.
In fact, we're going to have a chaotic year in the portable device market as vendors introduce at least a dozen products, some consumer, some business and some (as Apple hopes) cross-over products for both markets. Until we've had a chance to see more of the players and offerings I think it's a little soon to look at anything that seems to be attractive and useful, backed by an existing vendor with a strong distribution scheme in place, and write it off.
I'm taking a wait and see attitude.