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Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) took the wraps off its long-awaited tablet running the Palm webOS platform, the TouchPad, a confident challenge to Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad. The computer maker also unveiled two new webOS smartphones, the Pre3 and the smaller Veer. It was the most notable webOS product launch since HP bought Palm last year for $1.2 billion.
At a media event in San Francisco dubbed "Think Beyond," Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, said that so far in the mobile devices business, no company has presented a "solution that provides a continuous experience across devices" or one that gives users "access to your digital universe regardless of which device you use." Not surprisingly, he said HP will do just that with its new webOS products.
Importantly, it appears the Palm brand is being entirely discontinued with the new product line.
Jon Rubinstein, Palm's former CEO and now the senior vice president and general manager of the Palm Global Business Unit at HP, noted that it has been two years since Palm introduced its original webOS device, the Pre. (The Pre 2, which was announced in October, will be available via Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) Wireless starting Feb. 10 -- an interesting move considering it would seemingly be rendered obsolete by the new Pre3.)
The TouchPad is by far the most hotly anticipated of HP's devices, and itcould be a serious challenger to Apple's tablet dominance. The device has a 9.7-inch screen, dual-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) Snapdragon processor, a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chatting, internal stereo speakers and Beats Audio technology, and 16 GB and 32 GB memory storage options. HP said that a Wi-Fi-only version of the TouchPad will be out this summer, with 3G and 4G versions to follow; HP did not give any details on pricing or carrier partnerships.
In a bit of a knock against Apple, Sachin Kansal, an HP product manager, said in a demo of the TouchPad that "in webOS, multitasking was not an afterthought, it was a key feature we developed from the very beginning." HP touted webOS' multitasking abilities, as well as its Synergy and Stacks features, which group related open apps into card stacks. Additionally, existing webOS users can enter their webOS user ID into the TouchPad and automatically sync all their contacts, calendars and email to the device; Rubinstein demonstrated the receipt of a text message on the TouchPad that was initially sent to his Pre3.
"This product has a chance to beat RIM and any individual Android tablet, but not Apple, not this year or next," wrote Forrester Research's Sarah Rotman Epps. "Consumers will consider the TouchPad, and then buy an iPad."
The TouchPad will have access more than 810,000 titles from Amazon's Kindle Store, will allow users to subscribers to magazines like Time and Sports Illustrated, and can download movies and TV shows through the HP Movie Store. HP said it is working with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) to include the Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite with the device, which will let users view and edit documents such as Microsoft Word and Excel. The TouchPad also comes with VPN support to connect to corporate networks.
HP also talked up the Pre3, which has support for CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and HSPA+ networks, making it a world phone. The Pre3 has a 3.58-inch touchscreen, 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a wider and larger slide-out keyboard, Wi-Fi, Adobe Flash Player 10.1 and either 8 GB or 16 GB of storage. HP said the Pre3 will be available this summer. HP's selection of Qualcomm silicon is notable as its initial lineup of webOS smartphones were powered by Texas Instruments chips.
Finally, HP also unveiled the Veer, a phone with a 2.6-inch screen -- making it smaller than a credit card. The phone has tri-band UMTS and quad-band GSM/EDGE support, an 800 MHZ Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, Wi-Fi, Adobe Flash Player 10.1 and 8 GB of storage.