Will Motorola, HP scoop the tablet news at CES?

CES may be all about tablet OS versions. Motorola with Android's Honeycomb and HP with webOS.

Last week, I talked about Microsoft's plans to showcase Windows 7 tablets at CES (for the second year in a row) and I looked at the fact that Windows Phone 7, the company's mobile OS, is much better suited to a tablet experience. While Microsoft's agenda isn't likely to stir up any fear at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, CA, the offerings from Motorola and HP might be a different story.

Nobody's exactly sure what Motorola execs have up their sleeves, but the company did release a teaser video about that very clearly shows that those execs have their eye's on the tablet space. The video specifically references the iPad (calling it just a big iPhone) and pointing out that the Galaxy Tab is running a smartphone-specific release of Android. The video ends with the implication that Motorola is planning to unveil its own tablet running Honeycomb, the Android release that is expected to be optimized for tablet devices.

Honeycomb was briefly previewed on unspecified hardware from Motorola during the All Things D: Dive into Mobile conference. It definitely is a variation on Android, but one that takes advantage of the larger screen size offered by Tablet devices. The differences are very similar in both the overall OS and apps to those seen between the iPhone and iPad.

As Google does like to partner with a specific manufacturer to create lead devices for each Android release, it's possible that Motorola is the partner chosen for Honeycomb. That would give the company a big advantage in being first to market with a Honeycomb tablet. It would also be a somewhat surprising loss for Samsung, who was the lead device partner for this month's release of Gingerbread with the Nexus S.

HP may also shake things up. The company is expected to introduce a webOS line of tablets. Despite making the marketing mistake of saying that HP's acquisition of Palm was for intellectual property, the company has invested in webOS – both in the development of webOS 2.x and the Palm Pre 2 as well as in printers supported easy remote access. It's not really a surprise that HP is taking its new mobile OS into the tablet space. webOS has a lot of potential. Despite not generating a huge following thus far (Palm's demise and HP's early comments on the acquisition pretty much guaranteed that), webOS is actually a pretty good mobile OS that should scale more easily from smartphone to tablet than Android.

This really makes HP webOS tablets a potential dark horse in the race that could offer surprising features, particularly since the company is allegedly making tablets with an iPad-like form factor (while most new tablets are opting for a smaller footprint around the 7-inch mark of the Galaxy Tab). It's also interesting that company may be targeting the student market with a slightly smaller (and presumably cheaper) version aimed at colleges – which could be a huge market in its own right (and one that could inspire long term loyalty).

All of this makes me glad that I'll be covering CES for ITWorld. I think there's a lot of exciting stuff that we'll see at the show, particularly when it comes to tablets. After all, this will be the coming out party for a lot of tablets (and probably some more e-readers, as well) and, as such, it'll be the first real look at what 2011's tablet wars are going to look like.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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