HP TouchPad

HP Veer

HP Pre3

HP's latest generation Touchstone technology allows you to tap two devices together to share information.
HP has big plans for the smartphone market

If you were worried that the rather anemic release (features-wise) of the Palm Pre 2 might be a sign that Hewlett Packard was giving up on the smartphone market, the company today had a trifecta of product announcements that should put those fears to rest.

I. The Event

At a San Francisco warehouse the company held a special event at 1 p.m. today entitled "Think Beyond".  There the company showed off its hopes and dreams for mobile products powered by the company's new webOS 2.0 "Mansion".

HP's Tom Bradley brags, "We have a history of firsts. We have a tradition of creating firsts."

Describes Mr. Bradley, "I think the most conservative estimates for the connected device market is low. We're in the early stages of a market that's going to continue to grow in size, importance, and relevance for years to come. What we've focused on is how we bring the scale. Since acquiring Palm, we've added hundreds of engineers. Adding to an already amazing team, led by Jon Rubinstein." 

II. The Devices

i. Smartphones

The first fruit of Palm's recent labors announced at the event was the tiny HP Veer smartphone.  It packs 8 GB of storage, 512 MB of DRAM, HSPA+, 802.11b/g, and Bluetooth into a credit card-sized footprint.  It also packs a second generation Qualcomm Snapdragon, the 800 MHz MSM7230 to be precise.  Like most smartphones it comes equipped with light sensors, proximity sensors, and accelerometers for responsive animation and touch.  It also can create a mobile hotspot to share the internet connection with other devices.

Mr. Rubinstein brags, "Never before has a smartphone done so much, and felt so little."

Next up is the Pre3, which Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein describes as a "smartphone for professionals".  The newest version of the Pre line comes with a more up-to-speed 3.6-inch 800 x 480 WVGA LCD touchscreen display, a 5 MP rear camera w/ flash, a VGA front-facing camera, and a large slide-out QWERTY keyboard which Mr. Rubinstein claims is the largest in an available smartphone bottom-out slider today.

Rounding out the hardware is a beastly 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 8x55.  It's unclear whether this is a dual-core or single core chip (both designs have been announced), but from the series (8000), it's clearly based on the Scorpion core design and is built at 45 nm.  The RAM stays at 512 MB.

The Precomes in two different varieties that support Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and either HSPA+ or EVDO Rev. A.  The phone is available with either 8 or 16 GB of NAND Flash storage.

The Pre3 won't be available till the summer, but the HP Veer will launch in the "spring" timeframe.

Next up HP unveiled the latest version of the Touchstone charge, which requires no cords to charge up the smart phones.  Both the Veer and the Pre3 are compatible.  The phones now launch into configurable demo modes while charging, to show off photos, appointments, etc.

ii. Tablets

Palm's next big item was the TouchPad, the company's long-awaited direct answer to the iPad.  Rumored for over a year, the webOS tablet is finally here (and even leaked online earlier today).

The TouchPad could well be the iPad-killer that many were hoping one of the Android makers would deliver.

To start, it is a full 9.7-inches (same as the iPad) and features an iPad-like 1024x768 pixel display.  At 13.7 mm it's ever-so-slightly thicker than the 13 mm thick iPad.  And it weighs 1.6 lb, identical to the weight of the 3G-version iPad.
But it ups the hardware ante, offering stereo speaker sound by Beats, a 1.3 MP webcam, and video calling.  

The rest of the hardware also beats the first-generation iPad handily.  Onboard is a dual-core 1.2 GHz dual-core Scorpion Snapdragon SoC.  The likely model number is the MSM8660.  An Adreno 220 GPU is onboard the chip for snappy graphics.  It has a full 1 GB of DRAM, up from the iPad's meager 256 MB.  It packs either 16 or 32 GB of onboard Flash storage.

It comes with Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR), and sensors galore (compass, accelerometer, gyrometer).

On the software side Palm showed off a paneled touch-driven email app, similar to that found in iOS.  The app supports multiple accounts and multi-touch selection of multiple messages (a feature not present in iOS).  The app supports a number of forms of messaging, including email, Twitter posting, and more.

The OS has a clean virtual keyboard (which is resizable and creates satisfy key "press" noises, to boot), and offers support for wireless printing and VPN.  Supported productivity apps include QuickOffice, Google Docs, Dropbox, and compatibility.

The device offers eBook support via a built in Kindle reader app, which comes courtesy of a new partnership with Amazon.  It even supports those gaudy page flip animations.

Like the Pre, it will sync your music collection (presumably with iTunes, to Apple's chagrin).  It offers full Flash support too, letting you watch web video and play online games without pause.

Rounding out the tablet, it offers what looks like a terrific multi-tasking interface.  Like a tablet-digestable version of what you experience on the computer, it breaks down items into notifications near the top of the screen, and multiple apps you can seamlessly and quickly switch between.

HP may well have Apple or Android beat in this department.  It seems to think so... HP’s Sachin Kansal states, "Multitasking was not an afterthought, it was a design principal from day one."
HP even took another dig at Apple and other "walled garden" ecosystems, with Mr. Bradley stating, "We've embraced the webOS dev community. We keep the tools in the garage -- unlocked."

So when in the TouchPad coming?

According to Mr. Rubinstein, "A WiFi version of HP's TouchPad will be available in the summer, followed by 3G and 4G versions.

iii. Connecting the Tablet, Smartphone, Web, and Printers

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of HP’s announcement was its announcement is how its new products communicate in so many different ways

For example the TouchPad and Pre phones would talk to each other.  When the Pre phones are dropped on the next-gen Touchstones, they relay texts and phone calls to the TouchPad.  Presumably you would use a Bluetooth headset to take voice calls.

You can take your Pre and tap it against your TouchPad and it transfers the website you're viewing on your tablet to the phone (incredible, we wonder if HP has a patent on this...).  HP calls this tech "Touch to Share".

Another example of this focus on connectivity can be found in the new pictures app, which automatically Sync's with cloud storage sites, such as Facebook.  It even integrates features from those sites, say showing Facebook comments in a in-app pane.  And the pictures can be relayed to a supported printer anywhere using HP's remote printing technology.

IIIOur Take

HP clearly delivered an A-game presentation today.  From appearances by the Beats CEO who works closely with Dr. Dre, to the special featurettes with executives TIME Magazine, Dreamworks, and others, the presentation left you shaking you blinking your eyes confused, wondering if you had mistakenly wandered into an Apple press event.

But one question is whether it tipped its hand too soon.  Typically, Apple showcases products that are available the next day, or at worst in a couple weeks.  The TouchPad and Pre3 won't grace store shelves for at least another four months.

A lot of whether the TouchPad is a stud or dud is thus uncertain.  Palm unveiled great looking hardware, connectivity innovation, and impressive software today.  However, by four months from now will it seem as great?

A lot of that depends on what kind of Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" products launch in the meantime and what kind of improvements Apple delivers with the soon-to-launch iPad 2.

At worst, HP seems to have three products that will be in the same ballpark, if not technically superior.

Perhaps the biggest unknown, though, is the question of developer support.  Right now Palm doesn't exactly have an overly active developer community.  Yes, it has apps, and yes some developers still make apps for webOS.  But most developers focus on two platforms -- Android and iOS.

With Windows Phone 7 now entering that mix, one has to wonder how well Palm will be able to convince everyone from game makers to business software makers to devote the large time budget needed to create a custom port fully leveraging the power of webOS.

From what we've heard webOS is a friendly enough environment to develop in, with good tools and APIs, particularly if you're familiar with the Java-heavy Android environment.  But good tools don't exactly equate to developer interest.

HP may be able to get by with a little bit of "if you build it, they will come" mentality, but in the long term whether these products are mobile heroes or zeroes over their lifespans will boil down to their app catalog.  The partners who spoke at the event is clearly a good first time, but HP has a long road ahead of it in trying to reignite an active webOS development community and get product to its potential customers (you).

It's always fun to root for the underdog, so until these products come up short, we're optimistic that they'll offer a nice challenge to the market-dominating RIM-Android-iOS trifecta.


"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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