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HP Plans Multi-OS Slate Strategy

Shortly after announcing that it was acquiring Palm, it looked like Hewlett Packard was throwing in the towel on shipping a Windows-based slate PC.

That was a major blow to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who kicked off 2010 in January in his annual opening keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show. That was where he famously unveiled HP's slate PC, saying it would be one of many to run Windows 7.

Despite the low entry cost of the iPad from Apple ($495), HP kept plugging the Windows slate, pointing out it would have some niceties absent in the iPad, such as USB ports and support for Adobe Flash.

But then after HP announced its $1.2 billion deal to acquire Palm, the company went dark on the Windows slate. HP indicated slates based on Palm's webOS were a key reason for acquiring Palm.

Now HP has a two-slate OS strategy: The webOS slate, reportedly to be called the PalmPad, will be targeted at as an alternative to the Apple iPad -- primarily consumers and those using the device to consume content. Its Windows-based HP Slate will be designed for business users looking to run enterprise applications. That move ups a battle recently waged by Cisco Systems, which last month launched the Cius, a device also targeted at enterprise users.

"HP believes the best way to serve customers is to offer them choice, and HP is very excited about the slate category," the company said in an e-mailed statement. "HP plans to use webOS from its recent Palm acquisition as well as Windows 7 from Microsoft for this category."

It also appears HP is looking at providing shared Internet connectivity in its devices, HP Personal Systems Group executive Phil McKinney said Wednesday to IDG News Service at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit. That's a feature now built into the Palm Pre Plus.

First hand, I can report that the shared Internet connectivity is a nice feature. Though I had trepidations about purchasing a Palm Pre Plus, the free mobile WiFi hub service was worth the highly discounted cost -- even if I decided webOS was a dud. And that was before HP announced it was acquiring Palm.

To be sure, webOS has some nice features but it is sorely lacking in the apps department. For the PalmPad and webOS to succeed, HP will have to get the Palm ecosystem up and running quickly.

Given the success of the iTunes App Store and Google's Android, it still remains to be seen where Windows Phone platform, webOS and even Research in Motion's BlackBerry platform will land. But given the projections for the slate/tablet market, there's plenty of room for growth. A report released this week by Forrester Research found that tablet sales will grow from 3.5 million units in 2010 to more than 20 million units in 2015.

Yesterday's announcement that Amazon will offer a $139 Kindle suggests this will be a diverse marketplace for digital devices for the foreseeable future.

Ballmer said at WPC last month that Microsoft is committed to the slate PC market. For now it looks like the first Windows 7-based slates will be bigger ticket items targeted at knowledge workers. Microsoft's announcement last week that it has licensed the architecture of ARM Holdings microprocessor suggests that there is more to come from Microsoft in this space. 

For now, I am waiting for the dust to settle, at least somewhat, before deciding what kind of slate to acquire. But it's nice to know there will be lots to choose from. Will we (those other than geeks and power users) own multiple digital devices as price points crater in the future? What's your take? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on July 29, 2010