HP unveils TouchPad, Pre3, and Veer -- and hints at future webOS platform ambitions [video]

REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

HP's media event introduced the TouchPad tablet and new smartphones. It also hinted at HP's plans to bring webOS to PCs.

Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president and general manager for Palm, holds the Palm TouchPad during a media presentation in San Francisco.

The invitations to HP's webOS media event included the vague phrase "think big, think small, think beyond" and the company hit every one of those points today during the event. Thinking big referred to the company's TouchPad tablet (due this summer) while thinking small was all about the next webOS phone known as the Veer (due this spring in a minimal form factor). As for thinking beyond, that was all about HP's plans to bring webOS beyond mobile devices in the form or connected printers and notebook and desktop PCs.

The biggest announcement was the TouchPad. The 9.7-inch 1.6-pound tablet will ship this summer in Wi-Fi-only models in both 16GB and 32GB capacities. 3G and 4G versions will follow after the initial launch (and will feature GPS capabilities). The TouchPad will be powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor and it will ship with a front facing camera.

There are several notable features about the TouchPad that make it a compelling alternative to the iPad and some Android tablets:

  • Port-free charging via HP's Touchstone technology
  • Full support for HTML5 and Flash web content
  • HP's contact and social media integration known as HP Synergy
  • The ability to adjust the size of keys in the onscreen keyboard to fit your hands and typing style (hard to believe no one else has come up with this before now)
  • Support for magazine subscriptions (launching with a slate of Time Inc. publications)
  • Built-in NFC that allows seamless transition of web content from the TouchPad to other NFC-enabled webOS devices (including the Pre3, which was also announced today)
  • QuickOffice is included for working with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files Printing support that will work with many recent printer models (from both HP and third-parties) that support HP's PCL on a local network and Internet printing courtesy of HP's ePrint
  • HP is working to develop video calling with partners (Skype was explicitly mentioned), which should allow for broader video call adoption than Apple's FaceTime
  • The ability to buy video content from HP's forthcoming Movie Store
  • True multi-tasking capabilities

In addition to the TouchPad, HP showed off two new smartphones: the Pre3 and Veer. The Pre3 is a follow up to the existing Pre line that will include NFC support and front/rear-facing cameras and will include a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor. The Veer, which features a 800MHz Snapdragon processor, is designed to be a full featured smartphone with a minimal form factor. The emphasis is clearly on making a webOS phone that is as light and small as possible – something that HP achieved in a credit card sized devices with a slider keyboard. Whether the Veer's 2.57-inch screen is too small is debatable, particularly for some tasks like editing documents, watching video, or playing games; read my thoughts on the subject in more detail if you want to have that debate.

The biggest surprise from the event is HP's plan to bring webOS to PCs. While a leak indicated the company was planning to develop webOS netbooks, the plan to deliver webOS as a full-scale desktop OS wasn't even speculated by most pundits. Exactly what a PC version of webOS will look like isn't clear and the company didn't elaborate on its plans in any real detail beyond saying more information would be forthcoming later this year.

With the TouchPad looking like a very compelling tablet, some diversification in webOS smartphone form factors, plans to use webOS in a line of connected printers, and the evolution of the platform to desktops and notebooks, it is very clear that HP is planning to create a rich ecosystem around webOS. In fact, the company is clearly aiming to create a complete webOS platform. That's an ambitious goal. Although I'm impressed by what the company has done with webOS, I'm not certain how much overall market penetration HP will achieve across all these categories. If it succeeds to even a modest degree, however, HP could be a game changer for the mobile and desktop industries.

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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