The HP Tablet: WebOS, Windows, or Android?

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HP is readying a WebOS-based tablet dubbed the PalmPad for release early next year, according to one recent report in a long spate of rumors about possible future HP tablets designed for either webOS, Android, or Windows.

As some would have it, Hewlett-Packard is now backing away from earlier plans for an Android-based tablet. Yet rumors about an abandonment of Android seem based purely on speculation around the upshot of HP’s PalmPad intentions.

Todd Bradley, executive VP of HP’s Personal Products Division, mentioned the PalmPad during an analyst meeting in California late last month.

Meanwhile, some ten months after demoing a since tabled Windows 7-based HP Slate at CES 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has pointed to the release of still unidentified Windows tablets in time for Christmas.

An HP PalmPad by early next year?

So what gives in all of this? From now through early next year, will HP announce new HP tablets running (a) webOS, (b) Android, (c) Windows, (d) all of the above, or (e) none of the above?

The webOS device seems to be the best bet, although the other platforms can’t be ruled out, either. HP first voiced plans for a webOS-enabled tablet during a financial call last spring.

Early on, some wondered whether webOS, a mobile OS built to support Palm’s smartphones, could get beefed up strongly enough to work on tablets.

Yet if anyone at HP is positioned to know the answer to that question, it’s Bradley. After all, before the buyout, Bradley used to be Palm’s CEO.

A (second) Android tablet?

Other rumors have centered on a purported Android tablet. HP did, in fact, introduce an Android-based tablet-type device in September as part of its recent announcement of the PhotoSmart eStation printer. This new tablet, though, uses a special build of Android especially geared to printing.

HP ZeenWill HP’s first Android tablet be its last, or will others follow? It might make good sense for HP and other vendors — to table any plans for Android tablets right now, at least for a few months.

Motorola, for one, doesn’t plan to release an Android tablet until early next year or later, according to Sanjay Jha, the company’s CEO.

At a recent investor’s conference, Jha reportedly explained that Google doesn’t believe the current edition of Android 2.2 or Froyo is tablet-ready.

On the other hand, an Android tablet from HP would hold a huge advantage over a webOS device on the software applications side, with so many tens of thousands of apps already available in the Android Market.

A Windows tablet by Christmas?

In Windows tablets before Christmas during a talk at the London School of Economics, Ballmer also said Microsoft will roll out “touch optimizations” for Windows 7 with various PC vendors in the year ahead. Could HP be among those vendors?HP Slate

Also over the past few weeks, photos of a possible Windows 7 tablet called the “HP Slate 500” have surfaced on some Web sites. Along with the tablet, the pics depict a docking stand with USB and HDMI ports, plus a case with a hole in it for a rear-facing camera.

Before that, two videos of a slim tablet PC labeled the “HP Slate” showed up on YouTube before being abruptly pulled by the user. The user claimed HP planned to release both a business tablet and a consumer model.

Microsoft is also rumored to be set to drop more hints about its tablet PC strategy during its Windows Phone 7 launch in New York City on October 11. Might HP and/or some vendors be prepping tablets running Windows Phone 7, as opposed to just plain Windows 7?

Hewlett-Packard hasn’t been talking lately about any forthcoming Windows tablets. Yet HP, a long-time Microsoft partner, already produces the Windows 7-enabled TouchSmart convertible tablet. A future tablet from HP running some flavor of Windows certainly isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Even so, there might not be much reason for it to be released by Christmas. Regardless of which OS(es) HP uses, the company’s future tablets seem at this point to be headed more toward businesses than consumers. In a talk at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt conference, also in California, HP’s Bradley reportedly said that “emulating Apple” is not part of HP’s strategy.

Bradley suggested that HP’s tablets won’t be targeted as iPad killers. Instead, HP will focus on satisfying its wide range of enterprise customers, who have different needs and may require more custom products, according to HP’s executive veep.

But who knows? HP already sells printers, laptops, and other devices to consumers. It could be that HP still has cards hidden up its sleeves for Windows consumer tablets.

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