One of these tablets is not like the other, one you can buy right now

February 9th, 2011 at 8:06 PM  4 Comments

Today was an interesting day in the tablet world. We learned that what was left of Palm has now officially been smashed into HP, and that HP is serious about really building on the momentum that Palm had started to build with webOS. HP announced a plethora of new things today (which you can read more about over at Engadget, who I stole/borrowed the wonderful chart above from) but the most interesting today was their new tablet, the HP TouchPad.

I have been getting a lot of crap from people for talking a lot about Apple on this site recently. If you’re bothered by this, feel free to stop reading now, or write your own articles. Fact of the matter is, they’re key to a lot of the technology I’m interested in right now and they execute it better than anyone else.

Apple created a new market last year when they unveiled the iPad. Now I know that Microsoft had been doing tablet PC’ long before that, but they sucked. It should be obvious by now, that even if you hate Apple, you have to pay attention to what they’re doing because they will set the trend for consumer technology in the next year.

That said, you now have three competing platforms that are looking to take a notch out of Apple’s belt. HP and their webOS platform, RIM and their new PlayBook and all new BlackBerry Tablet OS, and Google with Android 3.

I’m aware that there are already Android tablets out on the market, but even Google will tell you they wished they didn’t exist, because they’re running versions of Android that Google has actually come out and said are not designed for a tablet. So I’ll give Google and the Android platform a pass on the lackluster Galaxy Tab or the Dell Streak, which are something short of giant phones you can’t make phone calls on.

There is a lot of excitement about the three major contenders to take Apple down a notch. However, here is why they won’t make a huge dent, at least not yet.

HP TouchPad

I’ll start off by saying that of the three contenders, this is the one I think has the best chance of success, but the hardest road ahead. It strikes me as the one that is most like the iPad, but as of yet we have no pricing or firm release date. Like Apple, they are in complete control of the operating system and all of the hardware. Palm has had years of experience building phones and other mobile devices, and HP is the leader in PC hardware, the combination gives HP a major leg up on their competition.

But for HP to be competitive they’re going to have to price this device at or below the retail cost of an iPad. Otherwise, consumers are going to go with what they know will work and what is going to give them the best bang for their buck.

It’s also not due out until summer, chances are at least a month after the release of the iPad 2, which should set the bar even higher than it already is. If HP wanted to really make a splash, they should have released this device soon after announcing it. Otherwise it’s still hard-vapor-ware.

What is also missing from this is a solid community of developers who will make applications for this device. There are already webOS developers, making apps for the Palm Pre, but it remains to be seen if they’ll rally around this device, especially if HP sinks it in advance by not pricing it right.

Motorola Xoom

Of the three, this is the one I’m the most disappointed with. It has awesome specs, and Android 3.0 looks incredible and really looks and feels like a solid tablet operating system. However, Motorola has priced their hardware starting at $799, almost $200 more than what you could buy an iPad equipped with a 3G radio. (or $300 more if you’re not interested in cellular data networks)

The second kick to the family jewels is that Verizon is holding the WiFi connection hostage on this platform. In order to use WiFi, you have to pay for at least one month of their EVDO service. If you’re interested in doing that, then it’s no big issue, but if you’re like me and want to use Wifi or already pay for a personal hotspot through Mifi or another phone, it’s just an added cost to an already inflated price tag.

(BTW, Motorola is already on my list for inflating the pricing of the Atrix laptop dock, $500 for a netbook without any guts is insane.)

Motorola, Google and Verizon should rethink their strategy with the pricing of this device before it’s too late. The Xoom is due out at the end of this month.

BlackBerry PlayBook

This is by far the most confusing of the three devices. It’s the smallest of the three (and the iPad) and has the lowest resolution. It also has the lowest battery size (although that can be made up for by more effeicent usage) and runs an operating system that no one has actually seen yet. According to RIM, it’s not based on their current BlackBerry OS 6, but a brand new platform.

It’s hard enough for me to use BlackBerry OS, or find good applications for it as it is. I just don’t see this device really taking off in the consumer space. While it has the same advantages that Apple and HP hold in terms of controlling the hardware and the software, I’m just not confident in RIM’s ability to deliver a solid product. The other three are building on years of already existing software and RIM is writing a new platform from scratch. Maybe it will work to their advantage, but it all depends on if they can really match the other three feature for feature and deliver regular updates.

And of course, developers have to embrace the platform to motivate consumers to buy into their platform.

Pricing is still just rumors, although I did read today that Office Depot is going to sell the 16GB WiFi only model for $499 (same as the iPad) — so maybe RIM won’t do as horribly as I expect them to.

Apple iPad 2

If I were a betting man, this would be the horse I’d be rooting for. As with any unannounced Apple product, it’s all up for rumor, but the ecosystem that Apple has already built combined with the technologies that are expected to make its way from the iPhone 4 into the next version as well as a faster processor and more memory, make this the one the three contenders really need to beat.

It’s not enough to play catch up to a product that is a year old. HP, RIM and Google need to beat the next thing Apple has up their sleeve. Not an easy task, especially when they will struggle to beat the year old product.