HP Zeen Tablet: How Much Is for Real?

by Reads (12,915)

Rumors are swirling that HP is readying a tablet/eReader device called the Zeen, outfitted with Android 2.1 plus the ability to print out eBooks on HP printers. Yet although some of what’s being said about the Zeen is based on HP documents, reports of other purported features emanate from anonymous tipsters.

All that’s definitely known about the Zeen so far comes from two regulatory filings by HP: a trademark application apparently put in last year with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and an FCC filing discovered on August 5.

In an effort to put more meat on the Zeen’s still scanty bones, though, Engadget last week published predictions from anonymous sources which have since recirculated widely in other blogs and online publications.

Is it the Zeen or the eStation Zeen?

The very first published word about the Zeen seems to have come in 2009. In December, the New York Times reported that HP had applied for two trademarks for mobile devices Zeen and Airlife.

HP’s patent applications seem to have been largely forgotten about until last week. Maybe that’s because, as NYT writer Ashlee Vance pointed out, “It’s always dangerous to place too much stock in trademark applications. Companies will often go after a term only to abandon it, and whatever products the term was once meant to cover.”

On Thursday of last week, though, Engadget found a second Zeen-related document – an HP filing on the FCC’s Web site — and proceeded to write about the leak.

From the FCC filing, it looks as though HP is readying a device known not just as the Zeen, but as the eStation Zeen. The gadget was described only as a portable device with 802.11 b/g networking. Additional information about the eStation Zeen wasn’t disclosed because of a confidentiality agreement.

HP Zeen

Sketchy Wording in Trademark Application

Other facts around the Zeen are also kind of paltry. HP’s vaguely worded trademark application for Zeen last year described the trademark as covering “a portable handheld device for receiving and displaying text and images and sound; computer software for use in transmitting and displaying text, images and sound; computer peripherals; computer hardware.”

Airlife, on the other hand, was described as covering “handheld computers, personal digital assistants; mobile telephones; computers; computer hardware; computer software; computer peripherals.”

The Rumors Swirl

 Trying to fill in informational gaps about the Zeen, Engadget on Thursday presented a list of tips from anonymous sources, including the following:

  • The Zeen is a capacitive tablet running an HP skin on top of the Android 2.1 OS.
  • The Zeen will come with capacitive touch buttons, an SD card slot, video support, and — as seen in some prototypes — possibly with a camera and special Webcam app.
  • eReading will be a big focus, and there will “major integration” between the tablet and the Barnes & Noble (B&N) bookstore and ecosystem. 
  • The Zeen will be sold both as a standalone unit (with pricing still unknown) and in a $399 bundle with a new printer known as Zeus.

Also according to Engadget sources, the Zeen will not be shifted to WebOS, and it’s uncertain yet whether the tablet will be upgraded to Froyo (Android OS 2.2) prior to shipment.

Are the Rumors for Real?

Will all (or any) of these tips turn out to be true? The supposed emphasis on eReading with B&N content support does seem to make a lot of sense, on the face of things. Some might question why B&N would encourage yet another eReader when it’s been fighting so hard against Amazon’s Kindle to sell its own Nook device.

Yet the Zeen’s supposed integration with HP printers for eBook printouts would make the Zeen stand out among other eReaders in a key way.

Android Could be More Doubtful

AndroidOn the other hand, it seems more dubious that the Zeen will really run Android, rather than the WebOS obtained through HP’s Palm acquisition.

Only last week, HP CTO Shane Robison reportedly told Reuters that the Android OS is currently “not on the roadmap” in HP’s tablet plans.

What about the Windows 7 Slate?

At the same time, Robison affirmed that HP will also offer tablets based on Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS aimed at corporate users.

In May, HP had started voicing its intentions to use WebOS on a wide range of devices, leading some to wonder whether HP might ditch its previously planned Win 7-based Slate tablet as a result.

Yet during the 2010 Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference at the end of July, Todd Bradley, executive VP of HP’s Personal Systems Group Division, said that HP will for produce a Win 7 tablet enterprise customers in addition to a WebOS tablet for consumers.

WebOS Still Looks Likely

Although last week’s abrupt depature of Mark Hurd as HP’s president and CEO might conceivably impact HP’s future product plans, Hurd previously spoke at length about HP’s plans for WebOS during a conference call with financial analysts in May.

“We believe that the world is going through…more and more differentiation between what users want…all the way from a purely voice product up through a smart phone capability through a tablet through a notebook. We expect to play across the gamut of capabilities the customers want,” said Hurd.

“We prefer to have [the] OS in our case be our IP, where we can control the customer experience as we always have in the printing business, and that’s a big deal to us.”

In June, HP set its Web printer scenario in motion with a new ePrint smartphone application for remote printouts on its Photosmart e-All-in-One inkjet printer as well as on two future machines: the Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One and Photosmart Premium Fax.

In an interview at that time, Louis Kim, HP’s director of product management, Worldwide Inkjet Consumer Solutions, said that although the first printers in this series weren’t running WebOS, HP might starting replacing its existing printer OS with the Palm-originated OS at some point over the next few months.

Will there be Just One Zeen

If the eStation Zeen is really going to run Android, could it be that HP is eyeing not just one Zeen, but a larger series of gadgets, with future Zeens running WebOS instead?

After all, it could take a while for HP to re-tool WebOS – an OS used so far only for phones – to run on either printers or gadgets like eReaders or tablets.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to be speculating yet about other possible specifications of the eStation Zeen – such as the size of the device and the processor to be used – in the event that such a product does hit the market.




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