January 18, 2011, 5:25 PM —
We learned yesterday that HP has plans to include netbooks in its lineup of webOS devices. Today, we got more details on the company plans for webOS tablets. Yes, tablets – as in more than one model or form factor. According to a source that provided Engadget with leaked internal renderings of HP's 9-inch webOS tablet (dubbed Topaz), the company is planning to announce two webOS tablets at its event on February 9th: the 9-inch Topaz and a 7-inch model dubbed Opal.
HP's press initiation teased the world with "Something big. Something small. Something beyond." And this certainly fits with something big and small. A netbook could qualify as something beyond or that could refer to other products or a cloud-based service to accompany webOS.
The images appear to include a front-facing camera (which all the cool tablets are sporting this year), three speakers (for stereo in portrait and landscape orientations), a micro USB port (a little surprising not to see this instead of a standard USB port given the form factors), and a completely buttonless design. The buttonless design is interesting in that Apple is reportedly considering a similar look for future iPads and iPhones.
Along with the images, Engadget cites internal information about the planned release schedule of both tablets. It appears that HP plans to launch the Opal tablet in Wi-Fi only, AT&T 3G, and Verizon LTE/4G models in September with an AT&T LTE/4G model following next year. The Topaz tablet may launch sometime before the Opal. Both models are expected to ship with a 1.2GHz processor (no details, however, on what type of processor that will be).
One of the more interesting points to me is the timetable. September is a bit late in the year to begin shipping not just a new tablet, but a new platform. The majority of Android tablets running Honeycomb will be on the market by then (including the enterprise and telepresence oriented Cisco Cius and Motorola's more consumer focused Xoom) along with RIM's PlayBook, various Windows 7 tablets (though I'm not sure I'd qualify them as stiff competition), and a next generation iPad. That's a crowded market to enter late, particularly if you're trying to build a brand around a mobile OS in addition to shipping just a single device.
If September is the timeframe for the launch, HP's saving grace in a crowded market may be the ability to ship other webOS devices before then. Additional webOS phones, connected printers, and netbooks could build the platform and its brand in advance of the tablet launch. At the least, that would keep some hype going. If those devices are well received, it might even trigger a halo effect (much like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad have done for Apple's Mac sales). But, that's a big if – and a risky strategy in my opinion. It may even be telling, as Ars is noting, that the company has modest sales goals for webOS tablets this year.
Of course, the vague mention of an eerier Topaz tablet launch could be significant. It's possible that HP could release an entry-level Wi-Fi model sooner or partner with just one carrier to get a handful of devices into the market before they get crowded out. What might be even more interesting (and something that HP doesn't want to say outright too soon) is the possibility of offering an unlocked 3G or LTE/4G model – that would follow the pattern of the Palm Pre 2 and it could be a unique selling point.
One thing that these tantalizing glimpses do illustrate is that HP has some serious plans for and investment in webOS. That ought to may February 9th and interesting day indeed.